The Hating Game - Extract

Chapter 1

Half of all work-related flings end within one month.
One quarter of work-related marriages end in divorce.

‘IF I GET PNEUMONIA, HE’S GOING to pay,’ Mattie Johns muttered as she gripped the chains of the dunk-tank swing and looked down into the murky water. Several unidentifiable floating objects bobbed on the surface and the water had a funky yellow tint. Bonus if she got diphtheria! She’d sue Stuart for all he was worth, saving her company and putting the loser out of business in one fell swoop.

Shame you couldn’t sue for boredom, she sighed, shifting her frozen bottom on the swing. Watching TopRank Media’s Family Fun Day was about as exciting as watching the company’s CEO clip his toenails – which, unfortunately, she’d had the pleasure of witnessing first-hand. As hideous as that display was, Stuart’s toenail manoeuvres had been infinitely more entertaining than the bedroom moves that had followed. Any male sporting man boobs and a muffin top should be banned from dancing naked to Barry White – stuffed penguin prop or not – no matter how many millions he had.

A withered man with an adventurous comb-over lumbered towards her and tried to get a look up her skirt.

‘It’s not Family Porn Day, you perv!’ she hissed, trying to cross her legs. The swing swayed ominously over the water and she grasped the chains even tighter.

‘Stuart!’ she yelled, scanning the gathering crowd. Where the hell was he? He was the one who’d stuck her up here on the dunk tank of doom, promising the whole thing would be over within minutes. Just do me this favour, he’d said. Show me you’re really on board with TopRank Media. Then we’ll talk business.

If he needed to dunk her in the water to make her pay for not calling him back, fine, she’d thought as she climbed up the ladder and onto the swing. Pathetic, but fine. As long as he renewed his contract, too.

‘Cold?’ Stuart appeared around the front of the tank.

Mattie made a face. Looking down, she could see the beginnings of a bald patch on top of his head and the buttons on his boring checked shirt strained to keep his belly in place. She’d really had her champagne goggles on when she’d agreed to accompany him home that night.

‘No, not cold at all!’ Mattie tried to keep her rattling teeth together – no way was she giving him the satisfaction of seeing she was about to become an ice sculpture. ‘Listen, Stuart, before the fun begins, can we have a chat first? I have some great ideas to extend the scope of your contract with Mattie Johns Media Recruitment.’ She tried to smile but her lips were numb.

Stuart looked at her steadily. ‘You know, Mattie, when I started TopRank Media, I asked myself what kind of people I wanted on my team.’

Here we go, Mattie thought. Boring, boring, boring. She started to hum a little tune in her head to entertain herself – the same way she had when they’d slept together. You’d think two bottles of rubbish award-show champagne would have provided enough of a buzz. Stuart had succeeded at dulling even that.

‘Would I want someone who isn’t considerate? No. Who divulges personal information in front of potential employees? No. Who shows a lack of professionalism the likes of which I have never seen? No, no, no.’ Stuart smiled and tapped the side of the dunk tank. ‘You’re perfect for this, though. Enjoy!’ He walked away.

‘Stuart!’ she screeched. But he was already out of earshot, corralling more troops around the dunk tank. What a nerve, getting her to perch up here, all the while knowing he wasn’t going to renew the contract. Kind of surprising; she hadn’t expected to find an ounce of guts lurking in that slovenly frame.

His loss, Mattie sniffed, as she tried to get a foot on the ladder leading down to the ground. It wasn’t her fault one of the candidates she was vetting for TopRank Media overheard her on the phone to Jess last month, describing Stuart’s toenail rituals. And who would have thought the silly employee would report it back to Stuart? If you asked Mattie, she’d done Stuart a favour. Maybe he wouldn’t ask the next girl to file his toenails before getting busy.

And she was professional, much more than him. True professionals never let their personal feelings interfere with business and that’s exactly what he was doing now. He could learn a lot from her.

‘Okay, everyone.’ Stuart clapped his hands and silence descended. ‘Many of you came to TopRank through Mattie Johns. Now’s your chance to express your thanks for her wonderful services!’ His face twisted and he laughed but it sounded more like a cackle.

‘Wait!’ Mattie yelled at the advancing crowd, feeling more and more like a witch about to burn at the stake. She swung a foot out, hooking her heel onto a rung of the ladder.

‘Stuart, I’m getting down. You can find someone else to boost your ego. Maybe file your toenails, too!’

‘Come on, everyone,’ Stuart shouted, a maniacal look in his eye. ‘One, two, THREE!’

A flurry of balls hurtled through the air towards her as the gathered crowd let loose.

‘Oh, shit!’ Mattie reached for the ladder. But before she could grasp it, there was a thump and she felt the metal bar give way. She plunged into the cold murky water, her foot still hooked on the ladder rung and her skirt floating around her head.

She tried to haul herself upright, water streaming into her ears and nose, breaking the surface to the sound of laughter. Above it all she could make out Stuart’s goofy guffaws.

‘And she’s up!’ Stuart yelled through a megaphone. ‘Let’s get her back on that bar again, folks.’

‘No way.’ Mattie shook her wet head, hair whipping across her face, and climbed down the rickety metal ladder on the side of the tank. She’d almost drowned, not to mention ruined a thousand pounds of prime wardrobe along with showing off her knickers to a hundred nerdy individuals. All to make an idiotic fool feel better about himself.

‘Thanks for coming out,’ Stuart said sarcastically. He strode over to where she stood dripping onto the asphalt. ‘But we’ve just signed an exclusive deal with another agency. I believe you might have heard of them. Kyle Cook Recruitment?’ He met her eyes triumphantly. ‘Kyle speaks very fondly of you,’ Stuart sneered.

Mattie stared back, anger blocking any retorts from springing to mind. Of all the agencies to lose business to, of course it had to be Kyle’s. Not that it surprised her – he’d already taken more than half her clients. As if cheating on her wasn’t bad enough! He wasn’t going to stop until she was completely ruined. At the rate she was going, that would be any day now.

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