Thank fuck this evening is over at last.
I can’t believe I was so damn stupid as to think that.
First off Sawyer hands an envelope to Grey. Ouch!
I don’t know what the boss thinks it is, but I happen to know that it came from the Lincoln bitch. She just won’t give up; she’s got her claws into the boss so deep, I’m surprised I can’t see them sticking out of his chest. And the poor sucker doesn’t even seem to realize it.
The atmosphere in the car plunges to the level of the Marianas trench.
“You told her?” says Ana to Grey, her voice sharp with real anger.
The boss is in that guy-place of being on the back foot with both hands tied behind him. Okay, so maybe he used to get off on that shit, but not anymore.
“Told who, what?”
“That I call her ‘Mrs Robinson’!” she hisses at him.
That is so fucking funny! Gotta love Miss Steele’s sense of humor.
“It’s from Elena?”
The boss isn’t usually so slow. But that’s because he’s got a girlfriend. Women are like psychic vampires: they suck your brains out through your dick, and you don’t even realize they’ve done it, until you find that two plus two is advance math.
Then he catches up – really fucking slowly.
“I’ll deal with her tomorrow.”
I really hope he kicks that bitch in the ass before dropping her from Charlie Tango. She’s just no damn good: and I don’t like her hanging around Ana.
She falls asleep and the boss just holds her in his arms like he never wants to let her go. I know that feeling. But you can’t hold on to anyone that tight, as Gail keeps reminding me. You’ve got to let them live their life, no matter how fucking frustrating it is when all you want to do is to protect them.
“Do you need me to carry you in?”
I can tell the boss is really hoping that she’ll say ‘yes’ to that. He wants to be her everything. But Little Miss Independence shakes her head.
I drop them at the lobby and Grey nods to tell me he doesn’t want to be accompanied.
Fuck that! I get that he wants to have the perfect and private end to a weird-ass day, but there’s a maniac out there – one who digs whips and chains. And she’s fucking armed.
So I ignore him and drop Sawyer with Grey who’s too busy looking into Ana’s sleepy eyes to notice what I’ve done, then I drive into the underground garage – and that’s when all hell breaks loose.
The tires on Ana’s car have been slashed and red paint has been smeared all over it.
The tiredness vaults from my brain and I’m on the comms to Sawyer, Ryan and Reynolds.
“Amber alert in the garage. Grey and Miss Steele are on their way up in the elevator. Sawyer – foyer! I’ll check the Williams bitch isn’t still down here.”
I draw my weapon and check out the entire garage. Nothing. It’s the most vulnerable part of Escala: any damn idiot could buzz her in without checking who she is. Leila may be crazy but she’s not dumb.
Ryan and Reynolds drive in and are on the alert immediately.
“Freight elevator!” I snarl. “We’ve got to secure the fucking apartment. Sawyer is with Grey and Miss Steele. Come on, move! Assholes and elbows!”
We sprint to the service elevator and I pray that we get there before Williams gets to Ana and the boss.
I tap my earpiece as the elevator moves upward with the speed of a snail’s scrotum.
“Sawyer: wait in the foyer with Grey and Miss Steele until we’ve done a sweep of the apartment. Do not let them move a fucking muscle, even if it’s to sneeze!”
Sawyer’s voice crackles back. “Got it, T.” But then a moment later, I want to rip his gizzards into Shreddies-sized pieces. “Taylor, Mr Grey has entered the apartment.”
“You fucking ass-licking, scum-sucking, dick-wad of a squirrel’s nuts, Sawyer!”
What part of ‘don’t let them move’ was so fucking hard to understand – I’m not speaking Serbo-Croat!
The elevator doors open and we fan out, weapons in hands. I don’t have to tell Ryan and Reynolds what they have to do: we search, room by fucking room, watching each other’s backs, and make it stealthy. We also have to make sure we don’t shoot Grey, because although it’s not in my close protection manual, shooting the boss doesn’t usually lead to a promotion (unless your boss is Jimmy Hoffa.)
Grey appears from his office looking pretty fucking tense.
“Any sign, Taylor?”
“No, sir. We should check your playroom, while Reynolds and Ryan check out the rest of the apartment.”
He nods briskly, and we head off.
I watch his back as he unlocks the door to the playroom. I make him wait behind me as I dart inside, keeping low, keeping moving.
I hear his quiet voice in the dim light. “I’ll put the lights on now, Taylor.”
And I’m taken back to the first time I came in here four years ago. I don’t see it as quite so sinister, not now that I know that Grey is basically a decent guy – with some fucked up shit to deal with. And I’ve noticed that he hasn’t so much as looked in the door since Ana left him. Maybe he’s found something he needs more.
The room is bathed in a soft, red light, the low lighting throwing distorted shadows onto the walls. A bit like the boss himself. But the room is empty and there’s no sign that anyone has been in here.
Ryan’s voice buzzes in my ear.
“All clear, T.”
I nod at Grey.
“They haven’t found anything.” Or anyone.
He frowns at me. “I’ll tell Ana you were over-reacting; that might help calm her down. Are you sure Leila couldn’t have got into the apartment.”
“No, sir. I’m not sure of that.”
He nods tiredly.
“We’ll take turns on a night-shift, sir. Eyes on the garage and CCTV.”
“Thank you, Taylor.”
I think he’s going to say something else but he changes his mind.
“Debrief in ten minutes.”
He goes to check on Ana, whilst I coordinate another search, with every fucking closet and cupboard double-checked; hell I’m even searching under the beds, as if I’m looking for some demented bogey-man.
Grey sits in his study but I’ve got nothing new to tell him. The searches have turned up diddlysquat. It pisses me off. It pisses him off. It’s a whole fucking pissing contest without the fun of having actually drunk anything first.
His private line rings and I leave him to answer it. I can see from the caller ID on my office computer that it’s the Lincoln troll.
“What do you want Elena? … Is that a fucking joke? … What fucking ‘gaps’ were you planning on filling her in with? … No. … No, I haven’t. … That is none of your fucking business… Then why did she look so damn upset? … This is bullshit, Elena. … This is as fucking calm as I’m going to get! … I don’t know why you’re calling me at this hour. …No, you listen. I asked you, and now I am telling you. Leave her alone. She has nothing to do with you. Do you understand? … I know you do. But I mean it, Elena. Leave her the fuck alone? Are you hearing me? … Good. Good night.”
I hear him slam the phone down but somehow I’m left with the distinct and fucking uncomfortable feeling of unfinished business.
And then I hear him talking to Ana. Damn, she must have woken up. I was really hoping she’d be able to sleep through all this shit.
I check the CCTV again. There’s that damn worm, burrowing away in the back of my brain. What have I forgotten? What have I forgotten?
And then Grey presses the alarm code.
“She’s still fucking here!”
And all hell breaks loose. We sprint to the bedroom and nearly collide in the doorway.
“How long ago?”
Adrenaline is burning through me, igniting every part of my tired body and my synapses are sparking like a fucking Starburst missile.
“About 10 minutes ago,” Ana stutters.
What the fuck? You tell me this NOW?
She quails. So she fucking should!
“Leila knows the apartment like the back of her hand,” snaps Grey. “I’m taking Anastasia away now. Find her!” Then he looks at me. “When is Gail back?”
“Tomorrow evening, sir.”
“She’s not to return until this place is secure. Understand?”
Of course I fucking understand. But I appreciate it, too. In the midst of a crisis, the boss thinks about Gail. I won’t forget that.
“Yes, sir. Will you be going to Bellevue?”
“I’m not leading this problem to my parents. Book me somewhere.”
I nod. “Yes, I’ll call you.”
And then Ana says,
“Aren’t we all overreacting slightly?”
My eyes nearly pop out of my head and are in danger of rolling down my very sharp suit. Either the boss has been downplaying the danger too much, or Miss Steele is monumentally fucking stupid!
“She may have a gun!” snaps the boss, in a really restrained way.
I know for a fact he’d rather gag her and throw her over his shoulder than answer such a damn stupid question.
But Miss Steele’s reply shows something that surprises me: grit.
“She was standing at the end of my bed. She could have shot me then if that’s what she wanted to do.”
I realize she’s right. The thought chills me. Not on my fucking watch. But at the same time it reassures me. Whatever is going on in Leila’s fucked up brain, it’s not homicidal. Even so, I really want Ana out of here. Now.
And the boss is in agreement with me.
“I’m not prepared to take the risk. Taylor, Anastasia needs shoes.”
That’s my cue.
I collect jeans, a T-shirt, sweatshirt, sneakers and, God forgive me, I rifle through Miss Steele’s underwear drawer until I find the… um… appropriate items.
As it happens I really enjoy rifling through Gail’s underwear drawer: not only does it bring back memories but I find it… inspiring.
I brush the thought away (silk, satin, lace…) and pack a bag for Miss Steele. At the same time I remember the first night she stayed with the boss, and my highly-paid job as personal security included strolling through the local branch of Victoria’s Secret. Gail really appreciated that. Happy days. Or daze, as I seem to recall.
I head back to the foyer and hand Miss Steele her case.
And then she surprises the hell out of me. She wraps her arms around me and gives me a big hug. She’s so small and soft and despite everything that’s happened since she met the boss, it’s an innocent and impulsive gesture.
She’s telling me I make her feel safe.
Fuck! That feels good.
And then I see the boss’s face. He looks like he rather see me hung, drawn and quartered, and tied to a buffalo to have my bare butt dragged over a Saguaro cactus – which might be something of a challenge in Seattle.
I adjust my tie and try not to smile. Suck it up, Grey, because I’m still The Man.
“Let me know where I’m going,” he says tightly, in a voice that means one more step and you’re so fucking fired.
I pass him my company credit card. It would be best if he doesn’t make it completely fucking obvious where he is, by checking in under a false name.
“You might want to use this when you get there.”
“Good thinking,” he says.
Which translates as, Eat shit and piss nails, Taylor. And then ask me for a fucking raise.
It’s important to have a good working relationship with your boss.
Ryan and Reynolds roll up. Ryan shakes his head so I know they haven’t found anything.
“Accompany Mr Grey and Miss Steele to the garage.”
Ryan starts to throw a quick salute and remembers that he’s now a Man In Black. Jeez, wearing shades at night? Soooooo uncool.
I head back to the office and book them a suite at the Fairmont Olympic.
“In the name of Taylor,” I half-yell at the halfwit who answers the phone. “Get the fire lit and make sure there’s some decent brandy in the liquor cabinet.
I convey the information to the boss.
And then I let my brain roam through the apartment. Where? How? Why? Why?
And then it hits me: the one fucking place. I fucking knew I’d forgotten something. Fucking emergency stairwell!
I sprint on over and sure enough, I can see that the door has been opened recently. How the hell she got past the alarm system, I have no fucking clue.
It’s damn creepy: how long has Leila been planning on breaking in here? Was this some sort of twisted back-up plan if her marriage didn’t work out?
Whatever. The bitch isn’t getting in here again.
I pull out my cellphone.
“Welch, it’s Taylor. The bitch was getting in via the fire escape. …Don’t I fucking know it! She must have climbed up 30 floors outside! …Yeah, well, probably because she’s fucking nuts. Look, I want new locks for every fucking door, interior and exterior – and I want it finished before lunchtime tomorrow. The boss won’t care what it costs – get a crew over here now.”
I send Reynolds and Ryan to follow the boss and to camp out in the Fairmont’s security room. We’ve all gone without sleep before so it’s no big deal. And right now, the adrenaline is still pumping. I can’t turn my mind away from the horrifying image that replays like a horror film in my head: Leila standing over Ana with a gun.
I don’t see that I have any choice: once she’s incarcerated, I’ll offer my resignation. I’ve let Grey down. Badly. And not once, but over and over. This is his fucking home. This is the place he’s supposed to feel safe in. He should be able to bring Ana here as a fucking refuge. Instead, I left the place wide open. Yeah, one fucking mistake, but that’s all it takes to be very fucking dead.
And then I feel sick: will Gail come with me?
I push the thought away and concentrate on the job in hand.
The work crew arrives, and I leave Sawyer in the CCTV room while I supervise and make sure I’m the only person with a set of keys at the end.
At some point in the night, Grey texts me. He wants all Ana’s clothes put in his closet.
Poor bastard. He’s trying so hard to be normal: he hasn’t figured it out that relationships last longer if men and women have their own space for clothes. I mean, I have half a dozen suits, a dozen white shirts, six ties, two pairs of jeans and half a dozen T-shirts. Gail’s gear would spread over half of Seattle if I let it. I swear two-thirds of it she’s never worn in the four years that I’ve known her, but she won’t throw it out just in case. Weird.
But the boss wants his Ana near him. Inch by inch, they’re coming closer together. It’s kinda heart-warming in a cheesy, James Stewart-Donna Reed sort of way.
By morning, Escala is secure: all the locks have been changed; the codes for the freight and passenger elevators have been reprogrammed for access to the penthouse. Welch even hired a specialist to try and break-in. He didn’t make it past the garage on the first attempt; and no higher than the fifth floor on the second. Thank fuck.
My eyeballs are so far past blinking, I could stick them in gin and wouldn’t even need the vermouth to make a dry Martini.
I could send Reynolds and Ryan to check out the Grace, but I don’t want any more fuck-ups – even if they were my fuck-ups in the first place. So I take the Audi and drive on over there.
“Hey, Mac. How’s it going?”
“Taylor! What about ye big mawn, what are ye at the day?”
I swear he does it just to piss me off. What fucking language is he speaking?
“Any problems down here?”
“Fer fuhsake! Catch yerself on ya fuggen goat ye!”
“Aw, come on, man! You know I don’t speak Irish. What the fuck have goats got to do with it?”
“Ya buck eejit ye, Taylor, so it is!”
“Yeah, yeah. Any sightings of Leila Williams?”
“Man, she’s a fuggen dickbax, no bones about it. I’d knack the ballbegs ballix in.”
I think he’s serious this time because he looks really annoyed.
“So… we good here, Mac?”
“Suckin’ diesel, big mawn.”
There’s one useful thing I’ve learned from Mac in the two years that I’ve known him: he has more words for getting drunk than the whole damn US Marines. A short sample could include: bladdered, pole-axed, blitzed, shattered, wracked, steamin’, pished, banjaxed and my own personal favorite, blootered, which always makes me think of TinTin for some reason.
I also happen to know that Mac is a solid guy.
“Look, don’t mess around with the Williams woman. Radio-in any sightings: she’s armed, Mac.
“Aye, amn’t nae eejit, Taylor.”
“Yeah, well, Grey will be over this afternoon – and he’s got his girlfriend with him.”
Mac looks astonished, and nearly trips over his own teeth.
“Yep, all true. And she’s really great. Her name’s Ana, so just look the fuck after her. Capiche?”
“Aye, big mawn, like ma own janine.”
“Speak English or I’ll set Mia Grey on you.”
He grins and holds up his hands in defeat.
Mia Grey – my weapon of stealth. Works every time. Hmm, maybe not that stealthy but still fucking fearful.
Mac’s Northern Irish accent is so broad that sometimes I think it would easier communicating via carrier pigeon. But Mac’s a good guy. He’s also ex-Royal Irish, which is one of the toughest regiments in the British Army. He doesn’t like to talk about it much. I can guess the reasons why.
Reassured, I drive back to Escala and stew.
And then the one good thing in my life walks through the door.
There are no words for how I feel when I look at her. I stride over and take her in my arms.
She laughs, softly.
“I take it you’re pleased to see me!”
“Oh, baby, you have no idea.”
“What’s been going on here? Why did you text me a new access code for the Penthouse?”
I sigh. I really didn’t want to get into this, but I owe Gail the truth.
“Leila. She got in. Last night. Grey took Ana to a hotel, but it’s been… difficult.”
“Oh, Jason! Are you okay?”
Am I okay? God, I love this woman.
“Yeah, baby. It’s all good now.”
“So where are Mr Grey and Ana now?”
“He took her sailing.”
She beams. “Oh, he really loves her, doesn’t he, Jason! It’s so wonderful. I’d almost given up hoping. Tell me all about the ball. How did she look?”
“Not as beautiful as you, baby.”
“You can be very sweet! But I want to know. Everything.”
“She looked good. It went well. The shit hit the fan when we got back.”
She rolls her eyes.
“What did she wear? Did she wear the midnight blue or the silver ballgown? How did she do her hair? Did you see her with her masque on?”
What is it with women? Who gives a shit? She wore clothes, for fuck’s sake.
And I really know better than to say what I’m thinking. Speaking before reflecting upon my words will not get me laid tonight. That is the fucking voice of experience: or possibly… That is the voice of fucking experience.
“Silver. She looked good. The boss was happy. He paid $100,000 at the auction thing.”
“Oh my goodness! Well, that’s a lot of money… he obviously wasn’t going to let anyone else dance with her.”
“Yeah, Flynn tried to bid for Ana, but he gave it up when the zeroes started racking up.”
Gail laughs. “I bet!”
“The Lincoln woman was there trying to fuck things up for the boss.”
Gail’s face tightens with anger.
“Tell me! What happened?”
“She waited until she got Ana on her own…”
“And I don’t know what Ana said to her, but I’d say that little Miss Steele is made of iron. Told off that Lincoln bitch. She fucking laughed at her. You should have seen Lincoln’s face!”
A smile of pure delight on Gail’s face is almost blinding.
“Good for her. I can’t stand that bi… woman!”
“Gail, honey, is my bad language rubbing off on you? Because if it is, there are other parts that I could rub off on you instead…”
“Mmm! Now that sounds marvellous…”
“If only I didn’t have to cook dinner for Mr Grey and Ana. But hold that thought, Jason.”
“It’s not all that I’m holding, baby.”
Maybe, maybe not. But the evidence will certainly be catalogued and displayed later.
“It’s a date, baby.”