Warm beer. Doncha just love it? Maybe it’s a law in England that says you can’t serve beer under 40 degrees. Oh wait, they use Celsius here, which means, um, the beer is, what 10oC? Whatever – it’s not cold.
What surprises me more is that I’m getting a taste for bitter – that suspiciously dark beer that looks like it’s been made from a chipmunk ass. I blame James Rayment – beer-swilling ex-mob (Hereford Regiment, also known as the SAS) and paid up member of the Campaign for Real Ale. Ale? Have I just wandered onto the set of Carry on Henry?
But I love, love London cabs. Specifically the drivers are awesome – they know their way around better than any GPS. Goddamn they can drive. Talk too much, but they know their business.
I haven’t done any driving since we got here so in theory I can have the occasional drink, not that I really care. I’m here to work.
Yep, Mr. and Mrs. Grey are finally on their honeymoon. The wedding was low key, the main challenge being to keep out the paparazzi. The doc and Grey Senior weren’t happy about some of the alterations we had to make to their property – I mean, who wants razor wire around their garden walls? But that’s the reality now. Yes, you need all the serious infra-red shit to make sure trespassers are kept out, along with a good CCTV, but you need a visual giant fuck-off sign, too. It lets people know that we’re watching – so I use a mix of obvious, unobtrusive and hidden surveillance equipment. I had to promise the doc that we’d take the razor wire down afterwards although I wasn’t happy about that – but she insisted and it’s her home. I get that.
Welch coordinated the checks of all the catering staff, along with the guys who put up the marquee, extra security, and anyone else who was going to be on the property. And Grey pulled some strings with Seattle Air Route Traffic Control Center and got a no-fly zone over Bellevue for the day. The paps got pretty upset about that, citing the First Amendment, Freedom of the Press and all that shit. And what about the boss’s right to have a quiet wedding with no goddamn cameras and no skuzzy bastards with long lenses who’ve hired a heli to hover over your parents’ home while you’re trying to promise the woman you love that you’ll be with her forever?
Of course, any outdoor event is a security nightmare. It’s much harder to lock down an external site, for a start, and the margin of error and the ratio of possibilities is that much greater. Chaos Theory – also know as Shit Happens. But the outdoor setting with the view sweeping down towards the Sound was what Ana and Grey wanted, and I was going to do my part to make sure they got what they wanted. We lucked out on the weather, too, so from everyone else’s perspective it was a perfect day.
“Jason, darling, just relax. There isn’t one single thing more that you can do. Your blood pressure will be sky high if you carry on like this all day.”
“Mrs. Jones, the only thing that gets my blood pressure going around here is you, but it ain’t rushing to my head.”
I pushed my hips into her fucking amazing silk-covered ass just to make my point. She looked so beautiful in the pale blue dress that matched her eyes, her hair loose and shining like gold. I get hard just looking at her. And silk – fuck – that does things to a man. Well, this man.
“Hmm, well, you’ll have to hold that thought – probably for the next three weeks.”
Jeez – three long, lonely weeks.
“I wish you could hold it for me, baby.”
“Jason! We have a wedding to get to – and I don’t want to be… rumpled.”
“I’m going to miss… rumpling you, baby. I’m going to miss you, period.”
My woman had a wedding to get to and I couldn’t help wishing it was ours. But that would have to come later.
She’d been so happy that the boss had invited her as his and Ana’s guest. She’d gotten a printed invitation, one of the small handfuls that were sent out. And along with it, an appointment for her to have an outfit made at one of those high-end couture shops. Plus, I don’t know, a load of that shit women like: spa day, hair and make up. Fuck, but she smelled so good I wanted to take her there and then. Although getting arrested for public indecency probably isn’t what you’d call a good career move. Especially at your boss’s wedding.
All I know is that she looked fucking amazing.
“Just promise me one thing, Mrs. Jones.”
“What’s that, Jason?”
“Don’t make me wait too long to call you Mrs. Taylor.”
Her eyes softened and those fuckable lips curved up in a smile.
That was a week ago and right but now I’m sitting in a pub that you could generously call a dive, next to a hairy-assed Brit called James Rayment who is doing his best to teach me English English, as opposed to American English, which is an entirely different language, or so he says. It’s an education in the local lingo.
So far we’ve done currency. I’ve learned that a pony is £25. A monkey is £500. A ton is £100, but if you drive ton-up, you’re breaking the speed limit at 100 plus mph.
And £1 is a pound, quid or knicker. It would be legitimate for a bloke to say to a mate, “Here’s the ten knicker what I owes you.”
Okay, so I have to admit that my blood—alcohol level wouldn’t bear very close investigation at this precise moment in time, but what the fuck? It’s an evening off. And nothing against Mr. and Mrs. Grey, but going with someone else on their honeymoon officially blows.
The boss is getting it left right and center – probably – and all I get is a couple of minutes facetime with the lovely and very-far-away Gail. My balls will be bluer than the Queen’s carpet.
Grey is totally loved up and Ana… Mrs. Grey… is totally adoring. Which adds up to totally sickening for the poor sap – that’d be me – who has to follow their every loving, ever-loving steps. Except for tonight.
Rayment’s beta team is on the case and I am getting quietly wasted in a football-themed pub where the photographs are of some dude named Nobby Stiles. Not wanting to cause an international issue, but come on – Nobby? Does that sound like a famous soccer player? It kinda reminds me of when I was a kid and I wanted a really cool nickname. I got my friend Dylan to call me Hawkeye for a whole semester. Fuck, I loved that nickname. I could see myself running wild through the woods, hunting with the Injuns and all that. Until my teacher, Miss Van Hendon (known to us as Van Helsing), told me that Hawthorne’s character Hawkeye had a white name, too – Natty Bumppo. I was only ten, but even then I didn’t think it was possible to have a more uncool name. Seriously. No one called me Hawkeye after that.
It’s been a long day. The intrepid honeymooners have visited Whitechapel, following the trail of Jack the Ripper. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but following the route taken by a serial killer 120 something years ago doesn’t constitute my idea of honeymoon heaven. I was pretty fucking shocked when I found out it was Ana’s idea. I don’t think Grey was that keen either. It seemed a bit macabre to my way of thinking, but then again she had just married Mr. I-have-a-dungeon-in-my-penthouse. Go figure.
But when the tour guide started going into a considerable amount of grisly detail that made Ana look pale, I’d had enough. Grey was scowling and about to throw an epic shit fit in the middle of the cobbled street when I decided to have a quiet word in the guide’s ear, explaining that if he continued describing the murders in graphic anatomical detail, he’d soon be feeling said anatomical detail via the toe of my boot.
Discreet. That’s me.
I hadn’t expected to like London so much. A city is a city, right? But here history really is all around you. Something a couple of hundred years old is practically brand new. The Whitechapel tour included a run down to Wapping and Ratcliffe Lane which was originally ‘red cliff’ because of the color of the soil, another site of notorious murders and not far from a pub where pirates were hung* – 500 years ago. Five hundred goddamn years ago! Ana planned the route which makes me worry. The pub’s still there although they don’t stick heads on spikes anymore. But if Grey catches anyone else staring at his new wife, it might come back into fashion.
We walked past part of an old Roman Wall when Ana wanted to visit the Tower of London. It felt weird – two thousand years of history watching the Thames float past. It screws with you brain. Grey fixed it that she got an individual guided tour after the Tower had closed. I organized a boat to take them in via the river entrance – called Traitors’ Gate. Ana got a kick out of that and I got a kick out of seeing her so happy. And as for the boss, it’s kinda scary seeing him baring his teeth all the time.
So, yeah, the happy couple did all the touristy things, and Rayment had all the local knowledge to make it happen.
“So, you must like your gaffer, because you’ve been with him a while now, huh, JT?”
“Yep, four years.”
Jeez – four years?
“The wife seems nice. Bit young, but a sweet kid.”
I had the same thought when I first met Ana but she’s so much more than that. She’s got the King of Pain singing a new tune and it’s good to see. I know he still gets nightmares – Gail and I hear him sometimes – but it’s not nearly as often now. Whatever still haunts him, she’s beating back his demons one by one. She’s strong, although I don’t think she even realizes it.
“Yeah, she’s a good person. Good for him, too.”
I don’t want to talk about the boss anymore and Rayment knows when he’s being shut down.
“So, what you been up to, Jimbo? The work gone a bit quiet?”
“Is that a bleedin’ joke, JT? Nah, it’s been full on. I’ve just given up doing celebrities. Lost my fuckin’ nerve, din I.”
“What do you mean?”
I can’t imagine Rayment losing his nerve. What the fuck?
“I used to do a lot of red carpet work but it’s more gray hairs on my head than Desert Storm. Seriously, mate, when you’ve got crowds like that and all that’s keeping them back is a poxy rope and a couple of bollards, all it would take would be one tiny thing to set it off. Then you haven’t got a crowd of fans, you’ve got a howling mob. You don’t know if someone’s got a gun, a knife, a hypodermic needle. It’s a bleedin’ nightmare waiting to happen. Who needs that kind of crap in their lives. Know what I mean?”
He shakes his head and I can completely understand where he’s coming from. It’s the ultimate nightmare of close protection work – that you won’t be able to control ‘the situation’. We spend our lives trying to control the uncontrollable, trying to outguess the unexpected. The boss likes to be low-key which makes my job a helluva lot easier. But I never forget that he’s a potential target. He’s a billionaire – that makes him a target. Ana is a billionaire’s wife – that makes her a target. I don’t even know if she’s realized that from now on her life will be lived in a gilded cage.
“What sort of work you doing now then, Jim?”
“More your sort of work: security for high profile peeps. There’s no shortage of one-offs for people like me. Next month I’ll be out in Libya looking after some French geologists who are scoping out new oil wells. Then I’ve got two months in Nigeria. That’ll be grim, but it pays well. This is a picnic by comparison.”
He sees the expression on my face.
“Don’t worry, JT. My team has your boss covered. There won’t be any slip-ups – not on my watch. Wiltshire tomorrow, right? We’ve got two cars as well as the four-by-four that mister and missus will be riding in. More under the radar than a limo – I like the way Grey thinks.”
That is a scary thought.
“You want to ride upfront or with the happy couple, JT?”
“Yep. I’m with the Greys. Who’s driving?”
‘Dead Ed’ is one of the best on Rayment’s team. I didn’t ask how he got his nickname – some British humor just doesn’t translate, probably. Although the guy kinda reminds me of a zombie film I saw once. You know the kind – where the head has been bolted on backwards. He’s a bit freaky, but he’s a damn good driver. Especially in a country where they all drive on the wrong side of the road. And roundabouts! Who the hell invented those and what were they on at the time? And mini roundabouts – or double mini roundabouts. Too fucking weird.
So our driver is ‘Dead Ed’. I worry about Rayment’s sense of humor. And fuck me, the jokes were bad.
“You’ll like this one, JT. Last night there was a big fight in our local fish and chip shop – a lot of fish got battered.”
Yeah. Like I said.
I was too tired to reply when I heard him mutter under his breath, “Bloody colonials.”
When I got back to the hotel there was a message from Welch to call him.
“Taylor, we’ve started getting some intel back from forensics.”
Fuck. I knew this was going to be bad.
“We’ve got a partial thumb print and so far it hasn’t matched any of the Boeing Airfield staff. It’s too early to say…”
Yeah, too early to say but we both know what that means.
“It’s too early to say that it’s sabotage for sure, and there are a lot more tests to do on the engines to rule out mechanical or electronics failure. So, we’re running the partial against national databases but with only a 35% print, it’s going to bring up tens of thousands of results.” He sighed. “But it’s a start. Will you tell Grey?”
Million dollar question.
“No. Not until we’ve got concrete information to give him. The poor fucker’s on his honeymoon. I don’t want to give him ‘may be’ or ‘could be’. When we know something for sure, yeah, then I’ll tell him.”
“He won’t like you keeping information from him, Taylor.”
“Don’t I fucking know it, but right now information is what we’re short of. But just to be on the safe side, ramp up the security at all sites. And tell Sullivan.”
“Okay, Taylor. Your call.”
Yeah, my call.
* * *
The next morning we leave the city behind. By special request of Mrs. Grey, we’re going to see Stonehenge. At dawn. For fuck’s sake. Has marrying Grey turned her into a druid?
We leave the hotel at 4:00 and head south west.
Rayment is on point and fully alert on less than four hours sleep. All ex-military personnel are used to that, but you don’t want to do it for too long or you get pretty strung-out. But one day of little sleep and long hours won’t kill us. Or impair our judgment, which is more important.
The sky is getting lighter behind us and dawn is chasing us across the country, but we arrive at the massive, gray stones in good time. Ana looks tired and pale and I wonder if she slept last night. She’s curled up under Grey’s arms and when he looks at her, he can’t hide the love he feels for her. I probably have that same look when Gail is near me. It’s not something that you can hide easily, although we both try – me and Grey. Yeah, I get that. It’s private.
As the sun’s rays seep above the horizon, I can’t help feeling part of something bigger. People have done exactly what I’m doing for 5,000 years. It’s strange, but I feel connected to …something. I can understand Ana’s fascination – there’s definitely something about the atmosphere here.
Ana pulls a tatty paperback out of her purse and begins to read.
“I like very much to be here,” she murmured. “It is so solemn and lonely – after my great happiness – with nothing but the sky above my face. It seems as if there were no folk in the world but we two; and I wish there were not.”
She looks up at Grey and her face glows with love. Rayment and I discreetly back away.
Gail always liked that book Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Once, she made me watch the film version. I thought Natasha Kinski was hot. But I could never figure out why women like to watch films that make them cry. Men don’t do that shit. Although the tears are pretty close every time James Bond totals another DB5 – but that is not the same fucking thing at all.
We leave the ring of stones behind as the first tourist coach arrives. Next stop is breakfast at some hotel in the market town of Dorchester. Ana wanders around with another paperback book, this time it’s The Mayor of Casterbridge in her hand, and she uses it to point out the relevant landmarks. The boss makes some comment about buying her a Kindle so she won’t have to carry so much around with her, and I see Ana visibly cringe.
He’ll talk her into it. The boss likes his toys. Oh, God help me. I cannot believe I had that thought. I want to bleach my brain.
Next stop on Ana’s literary pilgrimage is Lyme Regis. We’re already done the Howarth Parsonage in Yorkshire, home of the Brontës. What a dreary fucking place that was. No wonder they wrote Wuthering Heights. I don’t know what a wuther is but it sounded about right all the same. Damp, cold, miserable – and that’s in the summer. Cakes in the tourist teashop weren’t as good as Gail’s either. I couldn’t wait to get back to London and the smell of baking tarmac in the morning.
Back on the coast, I think Ana’s going to do the cape thing from The French Lieutenant’s Woman but no: now it’s Jane Austen. The village of Lyme Regis is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Yeah, and then Rayment tells me it’s a town. Seriously? This place would fit in the back yard at Grey’s new place.
The harbor is protected by a stone wall reaching out into the sea like a hooked finger. Ana jumps off it onto the sidewalk and Grey catches her. She says she’s recreating a scene from Persuasion and she jumps off again, and this time Grey scowls at her, telling her that she’ll hurt herself. She rolls her eyes and says, “That’s the point!”
Yeah, I totally don’t get that either. But she looks happy.
I can see that Rayment is falling under Ana’s spell, too. He’s met Grey before so he knows what a double-hard bastard he is, but now his assessment of Ana being a ‘sweet kid’ is being re-evaluated. Rayment’s a smart guy and he can see the dynamics at work. Grey might think he’s calling the shots, but Ana is the one in charge. My mind flashes back to the morning she walked out on him – he was broken that day. I’m not saying she was any better, but it was still a fucking shock to see him in pieces.
I’ve learned that life can be short. When you find happiness, you run that fucker to the ground and hang onto it. Grey won’t be such a stupid bastard to let her go again. That I can guarantee.
After a full day of sightseeing, Ana looks exhausted. That brings out Rayment’s protective side and I can’t help raising an eyebrow as he grumbles about ‘that little girl’ being all worn out. He glares at Grey. It’s pretty fucking funny. If you’re me.
The drive back is quiet. We’re still in a convoy of three cars with the SUV – what Rayment calls a four-by-four which as it doesn’t have 16 wheels makes no sense to me whatso-fucking-ever – in the middle. Which is good because Rayment’s team have been discreet during the trip. The last thing Grey wanted was for Ana to feel like she was being watched all the time – which she is, of course. But I can do discreet, too. I wasn’t born wearing a shit hot, made-to-measure suit. I can do casual. I mean, you’re not going to catch me in Bermuda fucking shorts and a Hawaiian shirt because that shit just isn’t cool, but my woman kitted me out with a couple of pairs of chinos and some polo shirts. The Korth kinda stands out, even under a linen jacket, but I am not going anywhere without my weapon. Grey hates it. But my motto is I’d rather have it and not want it, than want it and not have it. Because you only think that way once.
There’s no news from Welch but I still feel uncomfortable keeping what little we know about the partial print from Grey. I know it’s the right thing to do, but I also know my ass will be grass if he finds out. Make that when he finds out.
There are a few details to iron out for the next leg of the journey which is to France. The security are ex-Legionnaires and served in the first Gulf War and Sarajevo. That was a bad fucking business. It’ll be interesting to meet them. Welch says they’re the best. They mostly work out of Dubai these days but Welch pulled some strings.
We’re traveling to France by train – the Eurostar. I don’t know if the boss is trying to do a trains, planes and automobiles or if he just wants to fuck on another form of transport. I don’t give a shit – what I do care about is that this Eurostar goes under the English Channel – that’s under the fucking sea. I know, but I’m a Marine – we go on the sea – on the fucking sea. I am not a fucking submariner. That shit is just wrong on so many levels. I don’t even like going in the Holland Tunnel, but at least that’s only a mile and a half long. The Channel Tunnel is over 20 miles. Shit. That makes me nervous. If there’s an accident or a fire, there’s no way I can guarantee to get Ana and Grey out.
I shake away the dark thoughts and keep my eyes open as we effect the hand-over at Waterloo Station. And just to really put me off my fucking stride I’ve got those irritating fucking Abba lyrics going around in my head:
And how could I ever refuse
I feel like I win when I lose.
I’m having an out-of-body experience.
Fuck me. I need a holiday.
When we get to the station, I head out first to meet the French security who are taking over from Rayment.
“JT, this is Philippe and Gaston Reynard.”
God help me – it’s the Thomson Twins. All I need now is Tintin and Snowy. Seriously? A pair of identical twins is the most discreet undercover security Rayment could find me?
My eyes swivel towards him and the bastard is about ready to burst at the expression on my face.
“Yeah I know, but don’t sweat it, JT, they know what they’re doing. Met up with them in Kuwait. Phil, Gazza, this is Jason Taylor, close protection for Mr. and Mrs. Grey.”
“M’sieur,” says Example A.
“Bonjour,” says Example B.
“Why me?” says Example C (which is me). But I say it very, very quietly and determine to piss in Rayment’s shoes next time we meet up.
We shake hands and Rayment signals he’s out of there. I see relief on his face. I know where he’s coming from: any job where the client doesn’t get killed is another that you’ve won. He gets paid; he goes home. Job done.
There’s a certain satisfaction in being able to hand over the responsibility. I don’t say anything to Gail, but I think she gets what it’s like for me. I’m never off duty – not really. Whether I’m with her, or with Sophie, I’m still working. Grey is pretty fair about it, but things still happen at the last minute. That’s what I’m paid for. The weight gets heavy after a while.
From her guidebook-of-really-weird-British-shit, Ana informed us all that they used to kill witches by lying them down and putting a large stone over them. Then they’d add another stone, and another, and another, until the weight pressed down and killed you. Sometimes I feel like that – I feel the weight pressing down.
Or maybe it’s just because this fucking train takes me under the sea and I can feel the pressure of tons of water waiting to squash me like a tiny little bug. Yeah, yeah.
Ana and the boss have hired their own carriage which has a private bedroom. I wonder what the opposite of the mile high club is, because the ‘down under’ has connotations that I really don’t want to think about. And that’s not even taking into account the Australians.
You know the old joke?
The Land Down Under.
Men at Work.
Where do they work?
I can’t blame Grey – the bastard – but it leaves me fucking horny for Gail. So when I call her that night, I’m really hoping for some phone sex.
“Hey, baby. How are you?”
“Oh, Jason! It’s so good to hear from you. I’m fine. I’m at Allison’s.”
In the heart of the coven.
“Yeah? Say hi. On second thought, don’t say anything – she’ll put a hex on me.”
“Jason! That’s my sister you’re talking about!”
“I know, baby, but it felt like she tried to rip out my entrails last time I ate her cooking.”
She giggles. God, I love that sound.
“I miss you, baby. And JT Junior really misses you.”
“Is that so? I’ll have to see what I can do about that, but I’m actually standing in the middle of the food store at the moment.”
“Allison says hi.”
“Okay,” I mutter. “Keep a silver bullet handy.”
And she’s gone.
Things go smoothly in Paris. We visit the Left Bank of the Seine which is opposite the Right Bank – no shit – and visit some art galleries. We visit the Tuileries Palace that doesn’t have a palace and look at some flowers. What a shock. Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the opera, the ballet. It all goes smoothly.
And then we get to the South of France.
It’s hot. It’s sunny. It’s by the ocean.
Ana gets her tits out.
The World Ends.
To be continued…
* The Prospect of Whitby http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prospect_of_Whitby