The boss is smiling. That’s gotta hurt.
I’ve just come back from dropping Ana at work. Clint Bowyer has nothing on me as I cut through the morning rush-hour traffic and slid to a halt outside SIP.
Ana looked a little pale. Well, she always looks pale – I don’t think it was my driving; she’s not that much of a girl. I didn’t even do a handbrake turn – not a donut in sight. I put it down to the fact that she didn’t get much sleep last night.
I heard the boss screaming in the early hours, but I figured Ana could handle it. She’s been handling a lot lately; I hope she doesn’t break. But she’s a helluva lot tougher than she looks, Miss Steele. Like Gail. My Gail.
Jeez, I can’t believe she finally said ‘yes’! Wow, married. Again. Forever, this time. I can’t wait to tell Sophie. Shit, I suppose I’ll have to tell the ex-bitch. I mean, she’s still a bitch, but she’s my ex-b… Whatever.
But my good mood fades when I remember I have to hand in my resignation this morning, despite Gail trying to persuade me otherwise; I know it’s the right thing to do. It’s the only thing to do. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m going to miss working here.
I’m momentarily distracted by the thought that it’s weird Grey not going to work on a week day; makes me feel like I’m cutting school, too. At least I’m suited and booted; the boss is loafing about in old jeans. Weird, Part Deux. But he’s in his office, so I take a deep breath and knock on the door.
He looks up. “Taylor?”
“Sir: about yesterday… the Williams woman…”
I take a step inside.
“She should never have got into Miss Steele’s apartment. It shouldn’t have happened. And she got in here, too. I apologize unreservedly and…” here goes, “I wish to offer my resignation. Forthwith.” I may be a pussy, but I can still do big words.
He stares at me, then rubs his face tiredly.
“Take a seat, Taylor,” he says, waving his hand at the spare chair.
“I’d rather stand, sir.”
He frowns. “Fine. I’m not accepting your resignation.” He pauses. “Was there anything else?”
My jaw is hanging so far open, the boss can probably see my tonsils.
“Sir?” I croak, but in a manly way.
“I don’t accept your resignation. Leila – Miss Williams – she’s clever, manipulative and I was the one who let her into my life – into Miss Steele’s life. I don’t blame you for what happened. It was…” he shrugs, “inevitable.”
“But… safety was compromised. When I saw the gun…”
A look of horror repressed shivers across his face.
“I’ll be leaving for Grey House in 30 minutes,” he snaps. And his gaze flicks back to his computer screen.
“Yes, sir.” Over and fucking out.
I walk away dazed and a little confused.
Gail is waiting for me.
“He wouldn’t accept my resignation…” I mumble, scratching the back of my head with my thumb.
Gail smiles. “Of course he wouldn’t.”
“He values you, Jason. Like I do. Well, not exactly like I do,” she smiles. “At least I hope not!”
“So, whatever you say, you’re staying.”
“Is anyone going to let me finish a senten…”
“No. And Ana wouldn’t want you to go either, Future Husband.”
She kisses me, effectively putting an end to my arguments, the verbal ones anyway; the mental ones continue to torture me.
I think about her words throughout the day. Why would Grey want me to stay after I’ve fucked up? I wonder briefly if it’s because I know so much about him – all his dirty little secrets; all his dirty little women. But that’s not it, I know it. Grey would hand me my balls on a plate before he let that happen, but what worries me more is that Gail would help him. No, the only answer that I can come up with is that Grey blames himself more than he blames me. He said it in his office: he was the one who let Leila into his life. But I should have kept her out.
I shake my head hard enough to rearrange my brain cells: hell, if I don’t stop this self-flagellation it’ll be me screaming about my demons in the middle of the night.
And I start to breathe easier.
I call Welch for an update: Grey is proceeding with his intention to purchase the freehold estate of Ana’s apartment building – well, Miss Kavanagh’s apartment building. Then it’ll be secured with a state-of-the-art security system. I wouldn’t be surprised if the boss doesn’t add DNA-fingerprinting to the security’s must-have list. Nah, probably just retinal scanning. Huh, the Etruscans used to use the intestines of animals to predict the future. Kind of like playing the stock markets – I reckon Grey might go for that. And I can guarantee it’ll be the only mid-price apartment building in the Pike Market District with that level of protection. Ana will figure it out in about 20 seconds. I wonder how much longer after that it’ll take her to rip the boss a new one. I give him 10 seconds – unless he can seduce her first. It’s even money at the moment.
Welch also informs me that the Williams woman is being held at a secure psychiatric facility on the outskirts of the city. She’ll be under surveillance, of course. Now she’s out of the way, I can feel a micron of sympathy for her. She looked so broken.
And I know how easy it is for that thin veneer of self to be fractured: I’ve seen it happen. None of us know how far we can be pushed, how much can be taken from us, before we snap – the elastic shield that protects the core of a person. Do I know? Does Grey? Do any of us?
I told Ana that Grey was a good man. Why do I still think that after everything I’ve seen and heard? Easy. Psychology 101: because I’ve seen the face of evil – and it’s not Grey. No, not him.
The rest of the day passes quietly, for which I’m eternally grateful. Working for the Master of Misery is draining.
Gail texts me, and her message makes me smile – either that or my face just got cramp. We talked last night, and in view of the boss’s declaration to Ana, we’re keeping our own news to ourselves. Suits me – it’s no-one else’s business. Of course, I’ll have to tell Grey eventually – maybe in a few days when things are calmer – and when Gail and I can work out a free afternoon to get married.
I don’t need anything big: been there, done that. The ex-bitch was dressed in enough white lace to make curtains for a retirement village, and her relatives drank themselves into a blind stupor. The after-dinner speeches turned into an after-dinner free-for-all: ex-bitch’s relatives 0: Marines 3.
And then I wonder if Gail would like a big wedding. I don’t think so, but women and weddings are a strange and mysterious alchemy. Damn it: I’ll have to be nice to Gail’s sister.
Barney stumbles into my office – literally falls on his ass – and lies there, blinking up at my ceiling, interrupting my musings on whether or not there’s a word that describes homicide of a sister-in-law.
“Huh, that plaster looks kind of Bosonic. Cool.”
“Lying down on the job again, Barney?”
He sits up and blinks as if he’s surprised to see me sitting at my desk in my office on a work day.
“Hey, Mr. T. Nice suit.”
“Something you wanted to tell me, Barney?”
“Oh sure. Argon suppression system has been installed. We’ll be coordinating an isolated test over the weekend. Mr. Welch has vetted the technical staff and there haven’t been any alerts: I’ll need limited access for staff – argon is 38% denser than air – I don’t want any but authorized personnel or they could be accidentally asphyxiated: that would be a bummer.”
“I’ll see to it, Barney.”
“Thanks, Mr. T.”
“Make it so.”
He blinks again, smiles, and gives me a Vulcan salute.
I think I made his day.
Andrea calls me to say that Grey is leaving at six.
Since Ana came into his life, we’ve both been leaving the office a lot earlier. I could get used to that.
Traffic is light and we get to SIP a couple of minutes before 6.15pm. The light is soft and still bright, and pavement cafés are filling up with friends meeting, and people stopping for a coffee or a beer on their way home. The season for sitting outdoors is short in Seattle – so we make the most of it. Okay, damn it, I admit it. I’m so fucking happy I think I just heard birds singing. What the hell is happening to me?
The boss is smiling so much he could be auditioning for a toothpaste advertisement. Fuck, I need sunglasses.
The building door opens and I see Ana. Her eyes are wide, the pupils dilated – and then she collapses.
Adrenaline shoots through me, spurring my body to speed. I’m out of the car so fast, I leave my breath behind. Grey is right beside me and skids to a halt, sinking to his knees at her feet.
“Ana! Ana! What’s wrong?”
She doesn’t respond, her face frozen with fear.
What happened? What the fuck happened to her? Ana!
Grey shakes her gently, an edge of desperation in his touch.
“Ana, what’s wrong? Are you sick?”
We both scan her body for any signs of injury. I can’t see any blood – that’s good.
“Jack,” she whispers shakily.
An icy fury surges through me and I fight to keep it in check. I look at Grey and we exchange a look laced with meaning. He nods jerkily, and the dogs of war are unleashed.
Hyde is going down.
I rip open the building’s front door and race inside. But I don’t need to hunt down the bastard scum: he’s right in front of me.
He’s cupping his balls, a look of pain painted across his face. But when he sees me his lip curls.
“You! I knew I’d seen you before. You’re with him, with that fucking bitch! She assaulted me! She kicked me in the balls! I’m going to fire her ass. You tell him! She’s history! She’s finished! I’ll tell everyone that she’s a fucking little whore who came onto me and…”
I reach my limit and control flies away.
I slice the blunt edge of my hand against his windpipe and watch as the oxygen ceases to enter his lungs. His face turns red, then purple, his breath attempting to bubble up through the constriction.
Just a little more force and his windpipe would have been crushed. Perhaps I have more control than I thought. I watch dispassionately as he struggles to breathe, his lips turning blue, and he sinks to his knees. My humanitarian urges win over and I kick him in the guts, taking pleasure in hearing his breath whoosh out of his lungs. See, I’m helping: he’s breathing again. Well, gasping.
His body curls into a tight ball. It’s a tricky angle, but while he’s down I rabbit-punch his left kidney. He shrieks wordlessly. I hit him again and the sound cuts off.
I crouch down next to him.
“You’ve fucked up, Hyde. Big time. Grey owns this company; he owns your sorry ass.”
Hyde blinks up at me, tears leaking from his eyes, snot dribbling from his nostrils.
“He gave you a chance: he does that – gives people chances. Even though he knew about you and your other assistants…”
His eyes open wide in horror, then something dark passes behind them and the wall comes down. He looks away.
“Grey gave you the benefit of the doubt, because he’s a good man. You’re nothing; you’re less than nothing. Even if you knew that you were nothing that would be something, but you don’t. Now, listen carefully, I’m only going to say this once because unlike Grey, I don’t give second chances: you fucking touch Miss Steele again, I’ll fucking kill you.”
I kick him the ribs to emphasize my point, then stand back.
“Now get the fuck up.”
From my peripheral vision, I see Grey crashing into the lobby. His face is twisted with anger and his eyes are dark, feral, burning with fury. His fists are clenched and I can see that he wants to throw himself at Hyde. Yeah, I’d like to see that. Except I can’t. It’s my job to keep him safe and I’m very good at my job. Well, I used to be. And I can’t let the boss risk everything he’s worked for on this sorry sack of shit.
I stand in front of Grey and put my hands up in a warning.
“No, sir,” I say, calmly. “I’ve taken care of that. Be the CEO. Hand him his ass on a fucking silver plate.”
Grey’s breath comes in shuddering gasps and he holds himself rigidly, but I can see the force of my words sinking through him. Control: that’s what he does best.
Grey breathes deeply and I watch the steely coldness fill him.
“Gross. Moral. Turpitude,” he spits out. “To wit: ‘conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals’. That applies to you, Hyde. You assaulted a female member of staff; you threatened her with the termination of her contract if she did not offer you…” the words stick in his throat, “sexual favors; you sexually harassed and assaulted Miss Steele – she is considering pressing charges.”
We both know she won’t, but that’s beside the point.
“I deem you a danger to female staff in this building. You will leave immediately. You will not return. You will be paid up until today. You will not receive severance pay. You will not receive a notice period. You will not receive a reference and I will make it my professional duty to inform any future employer of the reason for your sudden departure.”
Hyde is so screwed.
We’re interrupted by the building’s sorry security. I narrow my eyes at him. Where the fuck were you ten minutes ago when Miss Steele was being assaulted?
He opens his eyes wide and his hand moves towards his hip. Too fucking slow.
I take two steps towards him. “Mr Grey’s personal protection,” I snap, handing him my business card. “Mr Grey is the owner of SIP, and this piece of shit,” I point to Hyde, “has just had his ass fired for assault on a female member of staff.”
The man straightens up.
Okay, wasn’t expecting that reply.
“Well, Mr…” he looks down at my card, “Taylor: I’m glad you caught him. I had my suspicions but the bastard was clever. None of the others…” he clears his throat and looks at me sideways, “none of the other ladies would say a word. Not to me. I mean, I suspected… and they were nice girls, but they never said nothing. I’m glad you’ve got him.”
He spits on the floor. Charming.
“Good riddance to bad rubbish.”
I study the man’s face for any signs of brown-nosing or self-justification, but all I see is a personal sense of justice done. I scan his name-badge.
“Thank you, Stanlawski. Then please escort this shit-bag to his office so he can clear his desk. Make sure he doesn’t touch anything else. He’s not to turn on his computer; he’s not to print out any files; he’s not to take any company files with him; he’s not to remove any flashdrives or computer disks or any company property; he’s not to go to the fucking bathroom by himself – understand; he touches nothing belonging to SIP: personal effects only.”
“Yes, sir. My pleasure, sir.”
He leads Hyde away and I turn my attention to Grey.
“Sir, we need to get copies of the CCTV tapes. You won’t want anyone else to see him… assaulting Miss Steele.”
His jaw clenches and his eyes flash dangerously.
“Barney needs to know,” I add, quietly.
He pulls out his cell and calls Sullivan.
A quarter-of-an-hour later, we’re finished.
Stanislawski escorts Hyde back down to the lobby. I go through the box of his personal effects and empty his pockets, too. The search is deliberately humiliating. Good.
Hyde remains emotionless, but his eyes flicker constantly between me and Grey; he doesn’t speak again.
“We’re done, sir,” I say to the boss, quietly.
He turns around and faces us, wielding Hyde’s guilt like a branding iron.
“You won’t hurt any more women.”
And I wonder if the boss is talking about Hyde or himself.
Stanislawski escorts Hyde from the building and I walk out with Grey. Ana’s in the front passenger seat of the Audi, so he’s going to drive, of course.
I watch Hyde crawl into his cab, like the bottom-feeding scum-sucker he is. I wish I could have kicked the shit out of him and made him eat it. I’d like to have beaten his teeth into his skull. I’d like to have broken every bone in his sick, loathsome body.
It’s a good thing I don’t have anger management issues.
The car phone rings. Barney is on the case. That kid might be all kinds of strange, but he knows his fucking job.
“Sir, it’s done, but I need to talk to you about what else I found on Mr. Hyde’s computer,” he says, nervously.
What the fuck? The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I glance at Ana; she looks blank and oblivious. But she’s not.
“Are you talking to me?” Ana whispers to Grey.
“No,” he mutters sullenly.
In the name of all that’s holy – my boss is a fucking jackass!
His girl, the love of his miserable life, has just gone through a traumatic experience and instead of wrapping her in the safety of his arms, he sulks, he pouts, he scowls. Jeez, if I didn’t know better, I’d expect him to go to his bedroom and rearrange his Marvel Comics collection. Fucking child!
But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it. Grey is a 6’ 1”, 180 pound adolescent – with great toys.
I shake my head and wonder if there’s a full moon tonight.