The boss is on the verge of losing it, and I’m not far behind.
Ana has gone AWOL, last seen moving in a northerly direction with the Kavanagh kid. And I’m too wound up to even think how much that sounds like a character in a B-Western.
She’s left her cell and her purse and I still have the keys to her apartment. But that doesn’t mean she’s untraceable – not to me.
“Sir, do you have Kavanagh’s cellphone number?”
He whirls around and stares at me and I can see the question slowly penetrating through his fear that Ana has gone – that she’s finally left him.
“No, but he phoned her so the number must still be on her cell.”
We reach for her phone at the same time but I let the boss get there first. I recognize he needs to do something. He scrolls through her calls and redials. After a second he tosses the phone on the table.
“Fucker turned his cell off,” he says, bitterly.
Irritating, but not a problem: a bit like the boss himself.
“I’ll get Welch to ping his number, but it’ll take some time to get organized.”
“Fuck, yes! Do it. Top priority!”
As if I fucking needed to be told that.
It’s a myth that you can’t track someone if their cell is turned off. You’d have to remove the damn battery for that to be the case. Several kidnap victims have been located by their cell being pinged. In fact, it’s a federal mandate for cells to become GPS capable so that 911 operators can locate emergency calls.
Yeah, and I bet the guy who sold you your cell didn’t tell you that. The cellphone companies can find you anytime they want. Just like the Lone Gunmen predicted.
All Welch has to do is send out a signal to Kavanagh’s cell – kind of like SONAR echo-location. Then we’ll have the longitude and latitude to within a few feet. I say ‘all’ – it needs the kind of software interface that doesn’t come cheap but Welch has it. Of course. It’ll just take a while. Yeah, and it’s slightly illegal without special clearance, documentation or a court order. Okay, that’s a lot illegal. Not that I give a shit: guess that’s why they kicked me out of the Boy Scouts. Or it could have been because of that thing with the Girl Scouts.
Despite knowing that we’ll locate Ana within the hour, the boss’s manic energy is a severe, fucking irritant.
I’m relieved to follow Welch’s instructions and head towards a bar just opposite Ana’s apartment. But then I spot her leaving with Kavanagh and she’s weaving around like Bambi on rollerskates. I decide not to intercept, just make sure she’s safe.
I trail them back to Escala and discreetly overtake, arriving back at Grey’s apartment a minute before them.
I phone Grey to give him the news that she’s on her way back, and stay on the line as I sneak into the apartment and hide behind the potted plants. Well, I would if Grey had any. Yup, trained in stealth and concealment.
I hear the elevator doors open and position myself so I can intervene if the boss hits supersonic in the first two seconds. Right on cue, Ana stumbles into the main room looking distinctly fuzzy around the edges.
I breathe a sigh of relief and hope that the boss isn’t going to hurl his cell at the wall – I’ve only just worked out how to use the fucker. The phone, not the boss: he didn’t come with a user-manual, or if he did, it’s in fucking Klingon.
“She’s here!” he snarls into the handset which has been umbilically attached to him ever since I said Ana was on her way back.
And then sweet endearments flow from his lips.
“Where the fuck have you been?”
Nope. Learning has not taken place.
“Have you been drinking?”
He sounds appalled. I don’t know why. Hell, he’s lucky Ana doesn’t self-medicate more often.
“A bit,” she slurs.
She’s safe: that’s all that matters.
I retreat to the office and give Welch the happy news – without edits – that he can call off the cavalry. Although I suspect Custer’s Last Stand is about to take place in the main room: I really, really don’t want to be there.
I slink off to find Gail.
“Hey, babe. Ana’s home.”
“Oh, thank goodness! Mr Grey must have been beside himself.”
“Honey, he was born beside himself and just got weirder.”
“That’s not fair, Jason. You know how much he cares for Ana.”
“I know, but sometimes I’m not sure he tells her that. And after what she’s been through tonight…”
Gail sighs. “You’re right about that. Oh dear.”
I head for the refrigerator and hunt down a beer. I’m definitely feeling like self-medicating after the day I’ve had, too. I don’t want to dwell on watching Leila’s breakdown – it’s too painful. And I know that I’ll have to face the music about letting her break into Ana’s apartment.
“Gail, I really fucked up today. Badly.”
“Jason, you did everything you could: it’s not your fault that Leila got into Ana’s apartment. What were you supposed to do? What could you have done that you didn’t do? Please tell me.”
“I should have stopped her!”
“So you say: I’m waiting for you to tell me how. How were you supposed to know she had a key? How were you supposed to watch the apartment 24/7?”
“I should have had the fucking locks changed at least!”
“And that would simply have made Ana fearful – and who’s to say Leila wouldn’t have got a copy of that key?”
“I should have…”
But she stops my angry words with a kiss. I want her to distract me. I want her to drag my mangled thoughts away from this torrent of shit – but I can’t.
I place my hands on her waist and pull back.
“Gail, I’m going to resign. I’ll tell Grey in the morning.”
“I have to, baby. I took my eye off the ball. Ana could have been hurt; hell, she could have been killed. I’m supposed to be fucking security. How secure has Grey been? How secure has Ana been? I fucked up. I just want to know if… will you come with me? Fuck, I hate to ask, baby, but you’re my life; I can’t live without you.”
“Oh, Jason! Please don’t do this to yourself! You’re a good man; a strong man; and Mr Grey will never find anyone as loyal as you. But you’re human: you’re not a damn machine and you’re only one man. You simply can’t be everywhere 24 hours a day. Mr Welch had more than a dozen people working to find Leila: they couldn’t find her with all their resources. How were you supposed to do anything differently? Darling, you did everything you could: Mr Grey knows that and Ana knows that. You can’t leave them now – they need you. More than ever. I need you.”
I shake my head. Her words are meant to soothe me, I know this, but she doesn’t understand. I don’t fuck up.
“I have to go, Gail. I’m too close – to him, to her, to both of them. I missed things, over and over. I don’t know – maybe I need a fucking change – away from all this craziness.”
She holds her hand to my cheek and my head sinks into her warm, soft neck.
“Jason Triton Taylor! Don’t you dare give up on me now!”
And she slaps me on the chest – hard.
Fuck! That hurt!
I step back and rub my eyes tiredly.
“I’m not giving up on you, babe. You’re the one good thing I’ve got going for me. But I can’t do this anymore.”
I wave my hand around, indicating the apartment, Grey, all of this.
“You’re not a quitter.”
“For fuck’s sake, Gail! You’re not hearing me! I can’t fucking do this anymore!”
“Oh really! Stop being such a drama queen!”
Did she just call me…?
“What do you mean?”
“Jason: for four years you’ve worked for Mr Grey. Has one word leaked out about his, um, unusual lifestyle? Has he ever been in danger from a stalker? Have any Press managed to get near him without his permission? Don’t bother to reply, because we both know the answer is ‘no’. A large part of that is down to you. Mr Grey chose his lifestyle, which is extremely risky given his public presence and standing in the business world. You have moved heaven and earth to protect him. But it was Mr Grey who brought Leila Williams into his life and into his home; it was Mr Grey who wished to keep security unobtrusive for Anastasia; and throughout all this, throughout what you call this ‘craziness’, the one constant that he has had, the one constant that he has relied on, is you. You, Jason. Not me, not Dr Flynn, not his family, and certainly not that Lincoln woman – it’s been you. If you leave now, you’ll be letting him down and you’ll be letting yourself down.”
“For goodness sake shut up and listen to me for once, you wonderful, annoying, irritating, stupid, stupid man!”
Oh, fucking ouch!
“I’m stupid twice over?”
“That’s a conservative estimate, Jason. Look, I’m sure if you talk it over with Mr Grey he’ll be appalled at the idea of you leaving. He’ll never agree to it.”
“He’ll have no fucking choice!”
“Oh, get over yourself! You’re not perfect, you never were. As if I didn’t already know that. It’s hardly a secret, Jason.”
“And if you agree to wait and talk to Mr Grey… then I’ll agree to marry you.”
Wow, that was weird. I could have sworn she just said she’d marry me. Have I got cheese in my ears instead of wax? It’s like a fine lady swapping her painted on moles for mange. It’s like hearing bad vocabulary that’s as bad as, like, whatever.
“Wait, what did you just say?”
“I love you, Jason. I love you more than sun and air and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
I stare at her, utterly mute. Yeah, I know: I fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down. Then I climbed back up and did it again – just to be thorough.
Please, please let me have heard right. God, I love this woman so much; I want her so badly: today, tomorrow, forever.
“Why now?” I stammer out the question, but I need to know. “I’ve asked you a thousand times to marry me and you’ve always said no.”
She smiles at me softly, her deep blue eyes glowing with love.
“Tonight you needed me to say yes. Why, are you having second thoughts?”
“You’re so eloquent, Jason.”
“Yeah, I know, baby.”
And then I kissed her. Yeah, I’m not completely stupid.
Her lips are warm and soft and wet – she’s like a freakin’ drug to me. However much she gives me, I want more. Just as I feel that my swollen, happy heart will burst through my ribcage, she pulls back, breathless, and rests her head on my chest.
“I’ll do anything, anything to make you happy, baby.”
“I know that, Jason. That’s why I said ‘yes’. Right now I want you go and check on Ana and Mr Grey.”
“Okay, I’ll… What? You want me to… what? I’m not going out there! It’s like asking me to go see what that lil bitty bit of smoke on Mount St Helens is all about! The boss will be in hyperdrive by now. No fucking way!”
“Jason! The very first thing I ask you to do…”
Ah, hell: I know where that sentence is going. It’s my own fucking fault for loving a clever woman.
“Fine. Fine. I’ll go look. But if I come back with my ass kicked through my front teeth, you’re paying for the orthodontist.”
“Jason, Mr Grey covers our dental, so you have nothing to worry about. Now go see if they’re okay.”
I wander towards the main room, my brain still on fire with the knowledge that Gail has finally, finally accepted my proposal – that one day soon, she’ll really be mine.
And then I hear yelling.
“Oh for crying out loud – no! I am not going to go!”
Ana is screaming at him. I think he likes it because he’s not screaming back. Weird.
“What can I do to make you understand I will not run? What can I say?”
Well, they haven’t killed each other; they haven’t hit each other – not even in a freaky, kinky way. They don’t need me so I’ll just skulk back into the shadows.
“There is one thing you could do?” he whispers.
The dance of the seven veils in a leather thong? Chinese water torture on an intimate part of his body?
“What?” she snarls at him.
She’s going to regret asking that.
That fucking bastard! That’s MY fucking line! And how come the fucking world stopped turning and I’m the last to get the memo?
I shuffle back to the staff quarters seriously pissed off.
“Well?” says Gail, her hands on her hips, looking all cute and bossy.
“Well, what were they doing? Jason! What happened? Tell me? I know there’s something you’re not telling me.”
“Grey asked Ana to marry him.”
She takes a deep breath and a huge smile breaks out.
“Yeah, he was on his knees.”
“Oh, that’s so romantic!”
“I don’t know about that: she was on her knees, too.”
“Excuse me? Ana was on her knees, too? They were both on their knees?”
“Yeah, maybe she lost a contact lens.”
“Jason! She doesn’t wear them. What was she doing?”
“Hell! I don’t know, Gail – looking for the center of the Earth?”
Gail skewers me with a look. “What’s the matter? Why are you so annoyed?”
Ah, hell. Pay or play.
“You finally get around to saying ‘yes’, which made me think the world was about to end, and then the boss goes and fucking copies me.”
Gail starts to giggle.
“I can think or worse role models, Jason, but I don’t remember you getting down on your knees.”
I raise an eyebrow. “You sure about that, baby?”
She blushes. “Not to ask me to marry you.”
That is true.
“Are you sulking, Jason?”
“Are you pouting, Jason?”
It has been known.
“Do you want me to kiss it better?”
Has the dog got a boner?
* “It’s like a fine lady swapping her painted-on moles for mange” Jonathan Swift