I’m not a violent man. That might seem like a contradiction in terms, having spent half my adult life as a Marine, and other half carrying a concealed gun to work, but it’s not.
I mean, recruiters for the military tend to weed out those sorts of people, the ones with violent impulses.
Recruiting officer: Why do you want to join the military, son?”
Candidate: I want to kill people, sir.
Recruiting officer: Next.
The reasons for enlisting vary from person to person. Some, like me, are looking to get the hell away from home for whatever reason, and find an alternative family in the Marine Corps, Army or Navy. Perhaps not the Air Force because I don’t know, but it’s been said, Air Force wings are made of lead. Yadda yadda yadda.
Some do it because they want to serve their country. The numbers wanting to enlist after 9/11 proved that. Got a lot of older guys who’d served wanting to come back, too. It was kind of humbling.
So when you sign on the dotted line, you have to be prepared to shoot, to hit your target, to kill. But we’re also trained to identify a potential threat before it kicks off, to secure an area, to keep things safe. You don’t want any gung-ho fucker on your team, a bullet magnet who’s out to get themselves and everyone around them killed. When the chips are down, you gotta stay cool, you gotta stay calm.
I’ve worked with soldiers from pretty much every continent and – in the best trained armies – that coolness under pressure is a constant, regardless of race, color, creed or language.
I worked with some Dutch soldiers once. You could say it was an experience. Mellow – that’s the word. Seriously laid back, which was kind of weird because they had conscription – the draft – in Holland up until the 90s. That surprised the shit out of me – you know – for the most laid back nation in the world, home of the hash-cookie café, and coffee shops where you can get a joint with your cappuccino, they still had conscription?
But that was nothing compared to some of the other shit they told me. Back in the day – back in the seventies, that is – when hippiedom was a way of life for half the western world, men grew their hair long. If you’ve ever seen Big Wednesday or any of those ’Nam movies, you’ll know that the first thing the military do is to shave your head. Makes you blend in – one of the team. It’s also about breaking down the individual so you can be re-molded into a soldier. Makes it easier to keep clean, too. Whatever.
But the Dutch army, hell no. They weren’t having any of that. The men liked their long hair. So what did they do? Camouflage hairnets. Nope, I am not shitting you. Although it took me a while to believe it, but yeah.
The Dutch are probably the most laid back soldiers I’ve ever met.
But, like I said, I’m not a violent man. My role is preventative: stop violence from happening before it can touch my boss, one Christian Grey.
But right now, right at this moment, I want to beat the ever-living shit out of him. I want to make the bastard bleed.
Since Titty-gate things have been tense.
Grey was not happy that his new wife was flashing her assets to the watching world. Not that anyone was paying that much attention – up until the boss lost it.
The Thomson Twins were bemused. Yeah, they’d checked out Ana’s tits, made some appreciative noises and then checked out the area for paparazzi. Professional – see? I’ve seen a lot of tits and even though I really didn’t want to see the new Mrs. Grey’s happy-meals, I couldn’t help glancing over when Siegfried and Roy were both looking in the same direction. I closed my eyes, wincing internally.
I was now in the extremely delicate position of protecting Ana’s rep, while trying not to embarrass either her or myself. I was ten damn seconds too long making a decision.
The Kraken came dripping out of the sea, hissing and spitting.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he yells at her.
Siegfried and Roy blink. Yeah, they’ve never seen the boss have a tantrum. Watch and learn. Watch and learn.
They’re not entirely sure what the problem is, but when Grey tosses Ana’s bikini top at her, they get the picture, whispering something about, “Ces Américains,” and exchange amused glances.
I really feel for Ana, especially when Grey snarls,
“I’m sure Taylor and the security crew are enjoying the show!”
Way to make her feel better, Grey.
But this isn’t about Grey making his wife feel better, this is about jealousy and possession, and Ana has violated rule number one: what’s hers is his, and what’s his is his.
Like the first trickle of snow that presages an avalanche, I know that this isn’t the end of his rage. The man is barely hanging on by a thread. If he starts frothing at the mouth and drooling, I’ll have to decide whether to shoot him or shoot myself because I’ve got a feeling I’m shit out of a job either way.
All the same, I realize the seriousness of the situation and I can’t help the icy shiver trickling down my spine: Grey wouldn’t hurt her, would he?
He throws me a coolly challenging look as he heads back to the Fair Lady.
What do you want me say, buddy? She’s your wife – I just work here.
Back on board the yacht, I leave them to talk it over, or whatever passes for discussion in their relationship, sorry, their marriage. I’m not sure Grey will ever cool down when it comes to Ana – the guy burns for her.
In the security center, I check Welch’s updated incident report on Charlie Tango. They’re still finding matches for the partial thumb print. It may seem like a needle in the proverbial haystack, but narrowing down a few hundred thousand potential matches just needs sophisticated software and attention to detail: Welch has both.
My cell phone rings, distracting me from the dark train of my thoughts.
“Hey, Ros. How are you?”
“Peachy with a slice of pie,” she says dryly, and I wonder if the job has driven her to drink. “How’s it going on the love boat?”
“Let’s just say I’d rather chew off my foot up to my eyeballs than stay here much longer, and I’m really looking forward to gray and rainy Seattle, Ros.”
“I thought honeymoons were supposed to be romantic?”
“I’m not on my honeymoon,” I remind her. “I’m working.”
She sighs. “Yes, I know. About that. I need to speak to Christian. Is he available?”
“Sure, Ros. Give me a minute.”
On deck, Grey and Ana seem to be having a quiet drink, but she and I both know that appearances are deceptive. About the quiet – not about the drink.
“Sir, you have a call.”
I hand him my BlackBerry as he frowns, tension rising from him. Yeah, I’m just the messenger.
I edge away discreetly and wait until the call is finished. Ana’s expression is distant and I can’t help wondering what she’s thinking. I don’t think she has regrets about her marriage, but it’s a lot for her to take on. I know how she feels. I mean, not just about Grey, which a fuck-ton of grief, whichever way you look at it, but marriage itself. I got married at 22 and look what a fucking disaster that was. You know your marriage is in trouble when you’d rather face the Taliban than your own wife.
But at least I got a beautiful daughter out of it – I guess we must have done something right after all.
Grey hands me back the phone and I hear him telling Ana to finish her drink. My guess is they’re going for one of their fuckathons. Well, it is a honeymoon. I am so glad my office is at the bow and a looong way from the happy couple.
The Fair Lady slips through the black water and leaves the coastal lights behind. We’re floating in darkness, the only bright light in an entire ocean – at least that’s how it feels. And I’d guess that’s how Grey feels about his Ana.
Three hours later, Grey comes to find me, having told the skipper that he wants to head for Cannes.
“What’s the update on Charlie Tango, Taylor?”
“The investigative team from Donauwörth are still working on it.” I pause, but he knows there’s something I’m holding back, so he simply waits. “They’ve found a partial thumb print on the swashplate. It doesn’t belong to anyone at Boeing Airfield. We’re running it through the FBI database and Interpol – nothing concrete so far.”
He swears softly and tugs his hands through his hair. I’ve known him long enough to know that he’s frustrated. Billion dollar deals don’t faze the guy, but anything that touches Ana, and he just about loses his mind.
He nods abruptly and leaves the office, each of us alone with our thoughts.
It’s the following day that I come close to letting Grey see a seriously pissed off former Marine up close and personal.
I’ve told Roy Roger and Trigger that we’re heading to Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a 60km drive, which is about 35 miles in the good ole US of A. Roy – or it might be Trigger – tells me that most of the route is pretty much donkey tracks, so it’ll probably take the best part of two hours. I hope the suspension is up to the job.
As Ana gets into the SUV we’ve rented, I see broad red welts on both wrists. And both ankles. What the fuck?
Shit. Handcuffs. That fucker has actually used metal handcuffs on his wife.
I know my mouth is pressing into a thin line and I have to try really fucking hard not to deck the bastard Grey there and then.
Really fucking hard.
Seeing Ana marked up like that is a hard limit for me.
I’m not the only one.
Even the mean-as-fuck former Legionnaires look shocked and one of them mutters something about Monsieur de Sade. They’re not wrong.
The only thing that stops me from doing anything rash is the look on Grey’s face. For the second time since I met him, I see… shame.
And from their body language I can tell that Ana is comforting him.
Strong, Mrs. Grey, very strong.
Philippe is unusually quiet on the drive. I can see his eyes flicking across to the rearview mirror, studying Ana and Grey as if he’s trying to solve a math problem.
Good luck with that, buddy. Hell, the bastard boss has been paying John Flynn for three years to sort out his shit. I reckon Ana’s done more to turn Grey into a human being in a few months, although obviously it’s a work in progress. Obviously.
We park at one of the large hotels that are scattered around the hilltop town, then discreetly follow Ana and Grey through the crowds of tourists and locals. It’s hard to stay focused when it feels like a damn holiday – too easy to relax and take your eye off the ball.
One guy I knew who was in this line of business used to put a small stone in his boot when he was working. Said the irritation kept him sharp. Mad fucker.
Grey stops outside an art gallery and Philippe raises his eyebrows when he sees the large black-and-white photographs of women in various S&M poses. For all I know, Grey planned ahead and sent his personal collection to make him feel at home.
“Don’t ask,” I mutter.
Philippe looks amused but wisely keeps his damn mouth shut.
The happy couple wander around some more and I’m getting bored. Grey never moves this slowly usually, and it’s fucking irritating. I can feel a headache coming on and I’ve really had enough of being away from home. I miss the large, gray skies of Seattle; I miss Sophie’s evening Skype-time; I miss Gail. Fuck, I miss her.
Finally, Ana indicates that she’s ready to head back. But not until Grey has bought her a heavy bangle worth more than some people’s annual income. It’s to hide the cuff-welt on her wrist. Yeah, the bastard is feeling guilty as all hell – and he’s just learned a harsh truth: money can’t buy you happiness, it can only make your misery more comfortable. The bracelet covers the marks, but it hasn’t so much as put a chip in the guilt that paints his face. Live and learn, you dumb bastard. Third time around, you might not be so lucky.
When the privacy panel slides up thirty minutes into the ride back, Philippe’s facial expression doesn’t alter. We’ve both had to deal with the annoyance of having clients car-fuck while we’re driving. I think some of them get off on the exhibition aspect of it, even if we can’t see anything. Some of them just want you to know that they don’t give a shit about the little people who work for them.
Grey has never cared that I know about his sex life. Although he’s been a lot more private about it since he met Ana. And I qualify that statement with the thought that CCTV in an apartment where the boss has a thing about fucking on every flat surface in the place, doesn’t offer a lot of privacy. Hell, I could have made a fortune selling that shit to the porn channels. I think I’ve erased more footage in the last four years than Kelly Divine has had hot… um… dinners.
Suddenly, the privacy panel slides back down and I can see Grey scowling at his cell phone.
“Anyone injured? Damage?”
What the fuck?
“I see… When? No. Not the fire department or the police. Not yet anyway. Has he? Good… Okay. I want a detailed damage report. And a complete rundown of everyone who had access over the last five days, including the cleaning staff. Get hold of Andrea and get her to call me… Yeah, sounds like the argon is just as effective, worth its weight in gold.”
Argon. He must be talking to Barney and it sounds like there’s been a fire at Grey House – it’s not the apartment because that has a regular foam/water sprinkler system.
“Email me in two hours… No, I need to know. Thank you for calling me.”
He catches my eye in the mirror as he makes another call.
“Welch… Good. When? An hour then… yes… twenty-four-seven at the offsite data store… good.”
I feel adrenaline heat my blood but with nowhere to go and no bastard to get my hands on, all I can do is watch and listen.
“Philippe, I need to be onboard within the hour.”
And it’s pedal to the metal as the SUV picks up speed.
I hear Grey tell Ana, “We don’t know for sure that it was arson.”
This is one lie I can forgive.
Back on board, Grey calls a war cabinet. Barney and Welch are video conferencing with us.
“Barney, what’s the estimated damage?”
“Two servers, and a ton load of cabling, Mr. Grey. The ambient oxygen level dropped so quickly, it stopped the fire from spreading.”
“None. All maintained by the back-up protocols, sir.”
“Welch – thoughts?”
“Whoever did this was clever, but my guess is that the aim was to let you know you know you were vulnerable rather than to do damage. Someone is sending you a message.”
Grey turns to me. “Taylor? Do you concur?”
“Yes, sir. My recommendation is that we review your list of known enemies.”
He sighs. “I know.”
“We’d have to include all the recent redundancies,” Welch adds.
Grey nods at the computer screen.
“And Jack Hyde,” I say quietly.
Grey turns his cold eyes on me.
“Yes, add him to the list,” he says.
We agree to increase the security at Grey House and upgrade the remote server from ‘always-invoked’ to ‘evaluatable’ on the MILS system. Personal security for all the Greys is increased. That isn’t going to go down well. I hope Luke Sawyer has his Kevlar on hand because Mia Grey is going to kick the shit out of him when she finds out he’s her new best friend.
Once Welch and Barney have signed off, I take a deep breath and bring up a tricky topic.
“Sir, are you going to alert Mrs. Grey to the increased security she’ll be subject to?”
I can see him wincing, but he’s adamant.
“No, she doesn’t need to have that additional concern.”
I think he’s wrong, but I’ve raised the matter and now I have to let it drop.
“I’m going to my office, Taylor. Tell Andrea to call me.”
I need to think. There’s something about this that’s bugging me. It’s the same irritating fucking feeling as when that Williams woman was haunting the apartment – a feeling that I’ve forgotten something. If I could just pull the memory out, I’d have the answer.
For me, the best way to think is to try and switch off – try and let my subconscious wrestle with the problem.
I pick up my book and concentrate on immersing myself in a story of Cold War espionage, Tremor of Intent, populated by amoral creeps amid a welter of sex, gluttony, violence, treachery, and, um, religion. Fun times. I should have stuck to Arthur C. Clarke.
The pages blur before my eyes and I’m another lifetime away when I see Ana’s anxious face peering through the door.
“I’d like to go shopping.”
Really? Ana hates shopping. But mine is not to reason why, mine is but to do and die. Or some shit.
“I’d like to take the Jet Ski.”
“I don’t want to bother Christian with this.”
I bet you don’t.
“Mrs. Grey… um… I don’t think Mr. Grey would be very comfortable with that… and I’d like to keep my job.”
She scowls, then knocks on Grey’s door and marches in.
The conversation is brief. Probably too brief. There’s no way Grey would agree to putting his angel in danger, but Ana comes out smiling brightly.
I stand corrected.
“That’s all cleared with high command. Can we go?”
Jeez, sometimes Grey must feel like he’s caught a tiger by the tail. Atta girl, Ana!
Once she’s wearing her life-vest, I take my time teaching her, double- and triple-checking that she understands.
“Okay, Mrs. Grey. Just take it all real slow. Don’t try and go too fast when you’re still learning.”
I point out the key features. “These levers behind the handle bars control the velocity. Squeeze the lever gently – that will increase your speed; let it go slowly, and your speed will decrease.”
She nods impatiently.
“Try and stay away from other personal water craft – you want to keep where the water isn’t too choppy, at least to begin with. Once you’re out there, avoid tight turns, because those will increase your chance of you turning turtle – just make wide, gentle turns, okay?”
“Fine, Taylor. Can I go now?”
I continue as if she hasn’t interrupted me.
“Gently turn the handles, just like riding a bike. Okay, I’m going to push you away from the boat before you start. Then slide in the ignition key and start the engine. Once you’re idling, you can experiment with the speed. Take it slow, Mrs. Grey. Slow, okay?”
She rolls her eyes at me.
“Slow. I’ve got it. Okay.”
“And fasten the strap of the ignition key around your wrist, Mrs. Grey. If you fall off, the engine will cut out automatically.”
“Press the ignition when you’ve drifted about four feet away from the boat. We’ll follow you.”
I push the Jet Ski gently, then give her a thumbs up.
She smiles this huge grin that lights up her face and I can’t help smiling back.
As she starts the engine, I feel a frisson of anxiety for her.
“Okay, Mrs. Grey, easy does it.”
She stalls and immediately colors up.
“Just steady on the gas, Mrs. Grey.”
She mutters something and tries again. The Jet Ski lurches forward like it’s fueled by kangaroo juice but then she gets the hang of it. She does a couple of fast circuits of the Fair Lady, grinning and whooping like a loon.
Gaston shakes his head, smiling.
“Elle a une soif de vie, n’est-ce pas?”
She sure does.
Ana turns and heads for the harbor and we follow, careful not to get ahead of her. She’s not skilled enough to cope with the wake coming off of the powerboat.
And then I see Grey charging onto the deck.
Oh shit. Ana, what did you do?
My cell rings and I have to hold it away from my ear as the boss blasts me for a) putting his wife’s life in danger – ah, come on, and b) falling for her story that Grey had given her permission – guilty as charged.
He also orders me that she’s to travel back on the powerboat. Yeah, that’s going to go down well.
“Just switch off the ignition, Mrs. Grey,” I say, as calmly as possible when we reach the jetty. “And, um, Mr. Grey is not entirely comfortable with you riding on the Jet Ski.” Which is an understatement of Biblical proportions – I’m talking Walls of Jericho here.
Oh fuck-a-doodle-do! Ana is laughing at me. She’s fucking laughing at me!
Then she smiles serenely.
“I see. Well, Taylor. Mr. Grey is not here, and if he’s not entirely comfortable,” she bats my words back to me with ease, “I’m sure he’ll give me the courtesy of telling me himself when I’m back on board.”
Ouch. Home run to the boss’s bride.
“Very good, Mrs. Grey.”
I wonder if Grey knows that he’s now the Sub in their relationship?
Two torturous hours of unrelieved tedium later (aka shopping), we’re back on board and thanks to Ana’s man management, I haven’t been fired, demoted, or flayed alive.
Things are looking up.
For nearly a whole minute.
I knock on Grey’s office door, expecting to be chewed out, parade-ground style. Instead, he looks up, his face unnaturally calm.
“Welch called. It’s arson.”
“If they’re after me… if they’re sending me a message… Ana… Mrs. Grey…”
“They won’t touch her, sir. I give you my word.”
He nods slowly.
“Thank you, Taylor.” He rubs his forehead, his eyes dark and scared. “I think I’ll go and see my wife now.”
He pauses outside the office and I see him square his shoulders and put his game face on. I don’t think that’ll fool Ana – she’ll see right through him. She always does.
I pick up the phone and call Welch.
“Taylor – you’ve spoken to Grey?”
“Okay, here’s what we know. A maintenance guy turned up two days ago. It was a new man, but from our regular contractor. Or so we thought. He had the firm’s van and valid ID. Security had no reason not to let him in. It turns out it was totally bogus – the ID was forged and the van was stolen three days ago. This was planned. Calculated.”
“What worries me is that he could have done a lot more damage with the access that he had. So the question is, what else does he have planned?”
“No, Welch. The question is, who is the fucker, and where can I lay my hands on him?”
“We’re working on it. We’ll isolate the CCTV but he was careful: keeping his eyes down, wearing a hat. I’d say he’d scoped the place before so he knew where the cameras were placed. Because we don’t know when that happened, there’s a lot of footage to get through.”
“Do you think Grey will cut short the honeymoon?”
“He hasn’t said anything yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ll let you know a-sap.”
We finish up the call and I do the one thing that will soothe me.
The phone rings. And rings. And rings.
Finally, I get her voicemail.
“Hello, this is Gail Jones. I can’t take your call right now, but please your name, number and a short message and I’ll get right back to you.”
I don’t speak. I press end. I phone back again, just to hear her voice. And again. And again.
Later that night, the boss texts me:
* Tell Andrea I want flights to Seattle asap. Fastest route. Commercial airline. *
He doesn’t even want to wait for his private jet to be sent from JFK. Yeah, he’s worried.
And we’re going home.
* * *
Hey, lovely people! Thanks for sticking with Taylor’s story. He’ll ride again soon as we gallop towards the end of Fifty Shades Freed.
In the mean time, my new book ‘Dangerous to Know & Love’ is out on May 17. Check out Amazon and Smashwords for details.