Ana is going to see the boss’s shrink after work: I don’t know if that’s brave or plumbing the depths of sanity. Then a third option occurs to me: she’s cracked under the strain of dating the poster child for SAMHSA*. I guess it’ll work out; the boss knows that anyone who dates him has to be half-baked.
In fact, working for Grey should come with a health-warning. Okay, so I’d be bored shitless and witless with the typical personal security jobs – the kind where you spend so much time sitting on your ass that it starts to fit the shape of your seat. But one calm day a week wouldn’t be so bad.
I had thought that when we found the Williams woman things would quiet down, but now that fucker Hyde is giving my synapses a work-out.
Firstly, he’s lucky I didn’t maim the fucker. When I saw Ana, I had a real Corleone moment and seriously considered cutting off the bastard’s balls and making him eat them. Heh heh – meatballs. Jeez, I’m so funny I’m laughing my ass off. No, wait, it’s still there. Huh. Must be losing my touch.
But when the boss saw Hyde on the floor of SIP’s reception, I could tell from the look on his face that he was having the same sort of homicidal thoughts as me. And that’s what held me back from doing more than kicking the shit out of Hyde: the look on Grey’s face. I knew I had one chance to stop him before he killed the fucker with his bare hands, and smiled while he did it. That’s no exaggeration: I’ve only seen that sort of silent, murderous fury once before and if Grey had started, he wouldn’t have stopped. It was pretty fucking scary, and I’m no pussy.
I thought we’d dealt with Hyde that evening, but then Barney came up with all this shit on the fucker’s work computer. For the last few weeks, he’s been stalking the boss online. I mean, the intel he’d found out so quickly was impressive, if he wasn’t a such a sick fucker who needed his ass handing to him. The point is that Hyde isn’t dumb, much as I’d like to believe otherwise. The information he’s acquired suggests some long-term stratagem. I don’t like that; I really don’t fucking like that at all.
For now, Welch has eyes and ears on Hyde. We’re all hoping he’ll disappear, like the good little ass-wipe he is, but something tells me that it won’t happen. I can smell it, like a sixth sense. Or maybe that’s one of the five: whatever. I have a bad vibe about him. That pisses me off. So for now, Welch is assholes and elbows, keeping tabs on Hyde.
Amazingly, Ana doesn’t seem traumatized by what happened to her. She’s one tough lil’ gal. Reminds me of Gail. It’s probably because Ana was able to fight back – she didn’t suffer passively. A 21 year old girl, all five-four of her, 110 pounds, took down that asshole. I couldn’t have been prouder.
Next time I get to spend the weekend with Sophie, I’ll show here some moves, in case any second-graders give her grief. Can’t start preparing for that shit too soon, in my opinion. Is seven too young to start her gun-handling training? Naw, I can take her down the range. Better do some self-defense training, too. Her mom will hate it and knowing Princess Sophie, she’ll probably shoot the shit out of her Barbie dolls, if she’s anything like her old man. Not that I have Barbie dolls – I’m more a GI Joe kinda guy. Was. Was a GI Joe kinda guy. I mean, when I was a kid.
But for now, I’ve got the evening off, with nothing to do but remind Gail why she’s agreed to marry me. And all the things I plan to do to her. Decisions, decisions.
“Hi honey, I’m home,” I call out, pulling off my tie as I stroll into the staff quarters.
“Yes, dear. I have your pipe and slippers coming right up.”
Damn, I love this woman. Hmm, maybe she was kidding about the pipe and slippers. I don’t smoke, for one thing, and slippers? Do I sound like a slippers kinda man? Puh-leez.
“Something smells good, baby.”
“Lasagna and salad. You’ve got ten minutes to take a shower.”
I have a much better idea how I can spend ten minutes. I wrap my arms around her waist and kiss the nape of her neck.
“Jason! Aren’t you going to shower?”
“No, baby. Later. I’ve been thinking about you all day, Mrs. Taylor, and I think we should get in as much sinning as possible before you’re legally mine.”
She pushes away from me slightly.
“About that, Jason…”
I look at her warily. “Second thoughts, baby?”
She slaps my shoulder and smiles. “Don’t be silly. No, I was just wondering when we’re going to tell Mr. Grey. And Ana.”
I shrug. “Is it any of their business?”
“I’m sure Mr. Grey will want to know.”
“Yeah? I’m sure he won’t give a shit.”
“Hmm, well, perhaps we’ll leave it for now.”
“Whatever you say, baby.”
“Besides, I think Mr. Grey and Ana are still in the honeymoon phase, so to speak.”
“I know I’m going to regret asking, but what do you mean?”
“Well, yesterday evening, I was just checking the stock in Mr. Grey’s drinks cabinet when I saw them… coming out of the playroom with his toy that…”
“Stop right there, baby. I really don’t want to know.”
“Jason Taylor! Are you really a prude?”
I stare at her in disbelief. “Hell no! I’ve worked for the King of Kink for four years. Kind of opens a man’s eyes. I just don’t want a blow by blow description.” I can’t believe I just said that, and I cringe.
Gail starts laughing. “No blowing of any sort: promise.”
Dinner is fantastic, but then again everything Gail does is fantastic. I’m a lucky dog.
I settle down in front of the TV with a can of Vitamin R and wait for Gail to come and get some quality lovin’. We don’t get as much time together as either of us would like; frankly, I could spend 24/7 with this woman and never get enough.
“Jason, do you know what Mr. Grey’s movements are for the rest of the week? And Ana? I know they’re at Bellevue on Saturday…”
Gail walks into the room with her schedule.
“We’re in Portland all day tomorrow, and won’t be back till early evening. Ana’s got her friend staying. A guy.”
Gail’s eyebrows nearly hit the stratosphere.
“He’s letting her have a male guest in the apartment – while he’s not here?”
“Yep,” I reply, popping the ‘p’.
“It gets better: he’s crushing on her, too.”
“Ana’s friend, José Rodriguez: really anxious to get into Ana’s panties.”
“It’s true. The boss isn’t too happy about him staying here…”
“I should think not!”
“But Ana told him it was either that or she’d stay at her place with the guy.”
“Yeah: the boss is totally pussy-whipped.” And the thought makes me feel all warm inside.
Gail stares at me and I realize I’ve had another hoof in head moment.
“Um, you know, without the actual whipping…”
She smirks; damn woman’s been playing me!
I launch myself at her and grapple her around the waist. Soon, we’re a tangle of arms and legs on the couch, and I owe her another white blouse. Well, hell! They should make them of tougher stuff: those buttons fly off everywhere.
I’m heading for second base, when my damn cell rings.
It’s the bitch’s ring tone. What the fuck?
Technically, it’s ‘O Fortuna’ from Carmina Burana, but I always think of it as the music from The Omen. It brings back memories of our wedding night.
“Jason, it’s… it’s Sophie!”
Immediately my heart-rate triples.
“What? What’s happened?”
I can see Gail’s concerned expression, and I know it must mirror mine.
“We’re in the Emergency Room now. They think it might be appendicitis.” There’s a stifled sob. “They’re talking about operating.”
Oh, God. Not Sophie. Not my princess.
Lucy’s voice is strained. “Jase: I’m so scared.”
“I’ll be right there, Lucy. Whatever she needs. You understand? Whatever she needs. I’m leaving now. Call me on the way if anything… if there’s anything I need to know.”
And she hangs up.
I’ve been involved in lot of crazy shit in my life; I’ve been in fire fights on three continents; I’ve driven tanks over land peppered with IEDs. But nothing, nothing has scared me as much as that forty second conversation with my ex-wife.
Gail is standing at the door. “I’ve got your coat,” she says. “Drive carefully. I’ll tell Mr. Grey.”
Unable to speak, I merely nod at her. She tries to smile reassuringly, but her lips freeze half way. She kisses me quickly on the cheek and I’m out the door.
The elevator is so fucking slow, I want to scream.
Traffic is light, but it’s slow enough to have me grinding my teeth. I’m vaguely aware that I’m gripping the steering wheel so tightly, my hands are cramping. Once I’m on the I-5 and hitting 100mph, it helps. A little. All I can think about is that my baby’s sick; they want to slice up my baby.
It’s after midnight by the time I get to the hospital. Some dick in a uniform tries to tell me I can’t leave my car in the no-parking zone. The glare I give has him stepping back: I want to hit him really badly – not because of him, but because I want to hurt someone as badly as I’m hurting. Instead I toss him my keys, ignoring his shout that the hospital doesn’t do valet parking. Like I care.
The ER waiting room is furnished with cheap plastic chairs, and ugly people. No, I don’t mean that, but the woman at reception gives me a professional smile. She’s seen the look I have in my eyes before. I don’t know how she does her job: how can she see that look every fucking day and not make her want to stab out her own eyeballs. And suddenly I realize something: that’s how Grey feels every time he looks in the mirror. He only sees his own ugliness – and Ana shows him beauty.
But there’ll be no beauty in the world for me if I can’t see my baby.
“Sophie Taylor: she’s seven. Her mother brought her in.”
“Just a moment,” she says, calmly.
I want to rip her eyes from her computer screen, and scream and yell. I take a deep breath as she scrolls through her files.
She looks up. “I’ll have nurse take you to her.”
I manage to mumble a thank you. I don’t know if she heard me and I really don’t fucking care.
A chunky guy in pale blue scrubs walks over to me.
“Mr. Taylor? I’m Luke Chalmers and I’m the charge nurse that’s been looking after your daughter. At the moment the doctors are trying to decide whether it’s severe gastroenteritis or appendicitis. We’re running some blood work and we need a sonogram. For now, we’re keeping her quiet and hydrated. Your wife and er… her mother and another gentleman are with her.”
Fuck that! Sophie’s my daughter.
And I realize why the hospital employs a guy like a linebacker for Friday night ER, because right now I really want to do some violence and my ex-wife’s boyfriend Steve is looking like a good candidate.
The nurse takes me into a curtained cubicle. All I see is Sophie’s face, pale against the pillows, her dark hair fanned out. She’s so still and quiet – my lungs struggle to pull in air.
I turn at the sound of the voice. A hippy-shit, limp-dicked, long-haired, Baywatch reject is staring at me, his hand held out. Keep standing like that, buddy, and I’ll rip your fucking arm off.
He drops his hand.
Not as dumb as you look, Steeeeve.
I lean down and lightly brush the hair off of Sophie’s face. She doesn’t move.
I straighten up slowly.
“What are they saying?”
My words are directed to my daughter’s mother. I can’t call her ‘the Bitch’ right now, not when she’s looking at our daughter like that, like half of her has been ripped off. Whatever our problems, she’s always loved Sophie. I never knew what that meant until now.
“They haven’t decided yet, Jason.”
“What the fuck are they waiting for?”
I know my voice is too loud for a hospital, but I can’t help it. I wonder if I’ve gone too far, but Lucy just looks at me tiredly.
“They’re doing everything they can, Jase. They don’t want to operate if they don’t have to. The doctor said he’d be back with the results from the blood work in 20 minutes.”
I run my hands over my hair in sheer fucking frustration.
Lucy leans back and I see for the first time that she’s holding Sophie’s hand in her own. It looks so small, like a tiny little doll’s hand. My baby is so young.
“Um, I’ll get some coffees,” says Steve.
I nod, but don’t look at him.
A minute passes. It’s so quiet. Shouldn’t there be beeping monitors? Shouldn’t there be some sign that these fuckers are looking after my baby?
I stand up, and start pacing up and down the small cubicle.
Lucy stares at me but doesn’t say anything.
After another minute of pacing, I’m about to go postal.
Steve returns with coffee: at least, that’s what he says it. It looks and smells like goat urine. I don’t touch it. I catch Lucy throwing him an apologetic look. It makes me want to do some serious damage to furniture – on the assumption that she’d be a bit miffed if I showed my ex-wife her boyfriend’s guts. Furniture isn’t off limits.
“Where’s the fucking doctor?” I snarl.
I’m about to have a serious, Grey-shaped tantrum, that may or may not involve a range of offensive weapons, when some stiff in green scrubs walks in.
“Miss Anderson?” he asks, calmly.
“Yes!” she replies, sounding desperate.
The doctor glances at me and the hippy.
“Um, Steve Pollini and Jason Taylor – Sophie’s father.”
Lucy introduces us.
What kind of name is ‘Pollini’? Makes the fucker sound like a starter at a cheap Italian restaurant. “Have some garlic bread with your Pollini.” Stupid fucking hippy.
“Ah. I’m Doctor Mathers. Well, I’m afraid the tests have been inconclusive.”
“What the fuck does that mean?” I growl at him.
He replies with that infuriating hospital-voice that’s supposed to be all low and soothing. Makes me want to rip his tongue out of his fucking patronizing skull and use if for fish food.
“Well, Mr. Taylor, there’s definitely inflammation in Sophie’s gut. That will certainly result in the intense pain she’s been suffering…”
I close my eyes. I don’t want to think of my baby suffering, my baby in pain. Make it me! Let it be me, not her!
“And this can mimic the symptoms of appendicitis. However, there’s no abdominal rigidity and that’s a good thing. We could well be dealing with a case of severe gastroenteritis. Her blood test is slightly raised, but it’s only slight, and it’s not always an indicator of appendicitis. At this point, I want to keep Sophie for observation; she also needs to be hydrated because of the loss of fluids during the vomiting and diarrhea.”
“Isn’t there anything you can do for her?”
“We’re doing everything we can, Mr. Taylor, I can assure you. Rest, fluids, and observation. Do you have any more questions for me?” I shake my head. “Miss Anderson?”
Lucy’s eyes are wide and her lips tremble. She looks at me, then slowly shakes her head.
“No,” she says, “I don’t have any questions.”
And then we wait.
I’m not exactly five stars at waiting. I fucking hate it. Give me something to hit; give me something to shoot at. Don’t make me sit here counting the ways I can scare the shit out of Steeeeve. Okay, that bit isn’t so bad, but waiting for my baby to be better is fucking killing me.
And anyway, this is a different kind of waiting. When I’m on a job, I can be patient. I know that sounds fucking unlikely, but it’s true.
I’m not on a job now, and my gut is twisted in knots. I feel so fucking useless – helpless. And I don’t like it.
A nurse bustles in: she takes Sophie’s temperature, and adjusts her IV. She smiles. It means nothing.
I get a text from Gail.
How’s Princess Sophie?
Too early to say. Could be appendicitis. Could be stomach flu. No fucker here knows.
Sophie is strong. Give her my love. Try not to shoot anyone.
I will. No promises on the shooting.
Love you, Jason Taylor.
“Is that Gail?”
I realize Lucy is asking me a question.
“She’s good for you, Jason. You seem… calmer.”
What a fucking joke. I’m climbing the walls here.
“Yes, really. I thought you’d charge in here, stomping all over everyone, waving your gun.”
“I thought about it.”
She smiles. “That’s what I mean: you’re calmer.”
My lips twitch in what might have been a smile if I weren’t so fucking worried.
And then we wait.
Steve disappears to… hell, I don’t remember what he went to do, and I don’t give a shit. I prefer it when the hairy fucker isn’t here. Christ knows what Lucy sees in him. He’s the polar opposite of me… Oh, right. Whatever.
Sophie’s eyelids flutter and I think she’s waking up.
“Hey, baby. Daddy’s here.”
She smiles in her sleep, but she doesn’t wake.
I sit back, sighing.
“So, how’s it going with you and Gail?”
I raise an eyebrow. “You really want to know?”
She shakes her head and smiles. “Not really. I just need some distraction.”
“And you thought talking about my love life would do that?”
“So, you have got a love life?”
I feel like telling her to take a job with sex and travel, but I don’t.
“I’ve asked her to marry me, Luce. She said yes.”
Lucy takes a deep breath.
“You’re getting married?”
“Once wasn’t enough? Sorry, Jason, that came out wrong. I’m really pleased for you.”
She sees my skeptical stare. “No, really, I am. Sophie will love being a bridesmaid. Oh, sorry, I don’t know what you had planned.”
To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about getting married; I’d just thought about being married. It could be a Vegas wedding with an Elvis impersonator, for all I care. It’ll be whatever Gail wants. But now Lucy’s said it, I can just picture Princess Sophie all dolled up, carrying a basket of flowers.
“Yeah, maybe, I don’t know. We haven’t discussed it: it’s kind of new.”
“Thanks.” I hesitate for a moment. “So what about you and the hi… Steve?”
She shrugs her shoulders. “Maybe. We’ll see. He loves Sophie – he makes a great father… I mean, step-father.”
I scowl at her.
And just like that, the entente is over.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Jason! He sees her more than you do! You’re always working. The number of times you’ve cancelled on Sophie are unreal!”
“That is a fucking lie, Lucy, and you know it. I cancelled one time, one time because I was stuck in NYC. I’ve made it up to her a thousand times over!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Jason! You can’t make it up to a six year old child who has to learn that adults make promises but don’t always keep them. You can’t make that up to her.”
“You are such a fucking bitch!”
“And you’re a foul-mouthed jarhead! What the hell did I ever see in you?!”
“Mummy?” says a soft voice. “Is daddy here yet?”
“I’m here, Princess,” I say, quietly.
“My tummy hurts.”
“I know, baby, but the doctors are going to give you medicine to make it better.”
I look up to see Lucy staring at me in triumph. Anger rushes through me, but I bite my tongue – for Sophie’s sake.
“He’s just running an errand, baby girl. He’ll be back soon.”
Her eyes close again, and she drifts back to sleep.
“Well, I hope you’re happy now,” hisses the Bitch.
“You woke her up with your ranting!”
“Don’t push me, Luce. I’m not in the mood.”
“It’s not about you, you bastard!”
“I fucking know that, you tight-assed bitch!”
“Watch your mouth! Your daughter is lying right there or had you forgotten?”
The curtain is pulled back by an embarrassed Steve and Dr. Mathers, who looks tired and irritated. I know how he feels: we’ve been doing this shit for the best part of a decade.
“Um, everything okay in here?” says Steve.
“Just peachy, Steeeeve,” I reply, earning a scorching look from Cruella de Vil’s uglier sister.
The doctor sighs: he’s seen it all before.
“Well, Sophie is doing much better now. Her temperature is down, and she’s responding well with the fluids and pain medication. I’m fairly certain she’s out of the woods.”
“So, it’s not appendicitis?”
“No, Mr. Taylor. Gastroenteritis can look very dramatic, but Sophie is going to be fine.”
“Thank fuck for that.”
He smiles. “Quite.”
Lucy smiles at Steve, and Steve smiles at Lucy. It’s a fucking smile-fest. It’s so sweet, it makes my teeth ache.
By the following afternoon, Sophie is sitting up in bed, bitching about missing her favorite TV show. It’s still Dora, the Explorer. My baby is still a baby.
“Hey, Princess. You want to come and stay with daddy soon? Gail would love to see you, too.”
“Okay, daddy. Can mommy come, too?”
“Um, no. Mommy’s busy that weekend. Just you and your old man, huh, Princess?”
“I love you, Princess.”
“Me, too, daddy.”
God, I love that kid. So much.
I’m tired, but relieved. I didn’t kill the Bitch, and I didn’t maim Steve. Who needs anger management lessons?
“Are you staying, Jason?” says the Bitch, between gritted teeth.
“Yeah, I’m going to check into a hotel, stay around for a couple of days.”
I know Grey will be cool with that. The twisted fucker has a heart: who knew?
“Oh, lovely,” she says, under her breath.
But then my cell rings.
“Taylor, it’s Welch. Grey’s gone missing. Charlie Tango disappeared off the radar 20 minutes ago.”
* Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services