Chapter 02

I’ve set my alarm for 5.30am but I’m awake before it goes off. I pull on a pair of sweatpants and my running shoes. They’re looking pretty worn. I’ll replace them when I get my first pay check.

I pull on my shoulder holster and check my weapon. The holster is an X-project style: I find it the most comfortable to wear for hours at a time, and it’s definitely the best for going running in. My weapon is the most valuable thing in my life, other than Sophie, of course. It’s a Korth 357 Combat revolver, custom made. The frame, yoke and barrel shroud are made from Aluminum-Scandium, the cylinder is Titanium and the barrel liner is steel. It’s 40% lighter than a standard handgun. And it’s also been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. You could call it a life saver.

I’ve got a light, cotton jacket to wear over my T-shirt when I’m running. It conceals the Korth pretty well.

I get to the foyer seconds before Grey. These rich types don’t do waiting and I’m not sensing that patience is one of Mr Grey’s virtues.

He frowns when he sees me.

“A gun?”

Of course! “Yes, sir.”

“I don’t like guns, Taylor.”

Nobody likes guns: they’re a tool like a spade or a shovel – as good or bad as the man using it. I remember my old man telling me that – but I have a feeling he took the line from someone else. I feel like rolling my eyes at Grey, but I don’t. That would be a quick way to get fired.

“It’s how I do my job, sir.”

Make or break time: if he tells me not wear my weapon, I’m walking. He frowns again, but doesn’t say anything as we move to the elevator. I break the stony silence first.

“What route do you usually take, sir?”

“Towards Pike Market and back along the waterfront. It’s a 6 mile circuit.”

“May I suggest, sir, that we vary this route each day?”

He sighs.

“Sure.”

He sets a fast pace once we’re outside. Unlike some of the people I’ve worked for I can see that he’s not doing it to impress me; that’s just the speed he goes.

The streets are pretty empty at this time and there’s very little traffic. To anyone watching, we’d probably just look like two buddies out for a run. But all the time I’m scanning the surroundings and assessing the situation: parked cars, anyone with overt interest, anyone acting suspiciously. It would make my life easier if he used a treadmill, but I get why he wants to run outside. The threats against him have been mostly low level; Welch’s daily updates will pick up any increase in the level of concern.

Fifty minutes later we’re back at the apartment block. It’s been a pretty good work out. In some jobs the client expects me to sit on my candy-ass all day 24/7 and still maintain peak fitness. So you could say that some clients just sit with their fingers up their asses when it comes to intelligence. But not this week.

I take a quick shower and head to the staff kitchen.

Gail is standing at the stove. Boy, she looks good: starched apron, immaculate white blouse. I wouldn’t mind helping her crease that. Hmm. My thoughts are getting carried away without needing anymore help from me. She’s set a place for me at the small breakfast bar instead of in the staff dining room. Everything smells great. I could get used to this.

“Good morning, Taylor. What would you like for breakfast? There’s a full range of cereals including oatmeal, fruit, eggs, bacon and pancakes.”

“That all sounds good, Gail. Whatever is easiest.”

“Mr Taylor,” she says with a tone of mock severity, “you and I will get along swimmingly if you tell me what you do and don’t like to eat.” She smiles her warm smile, to take the edge off her words. Not that I’m offended; far from it.

“I’d like bacon and pancakes, please, Gail.”

“Good! Maple syrup?”

I shake my head. I can’t face that much sugar in the morning.

She whips some pancake batter into a pan and two minutes later I’m tucking into delicious dime pancakes and crisp bacon. Damn, her coffee is good, too. I note that she takes Grey a plate of egg white omelet and a small bowl of blueberries with yoghurt.

She returns quickly.

“Mr Grey says he will be ready to leave in 20 minutes.”

“Thanks.”

I drink my coffee and watch as she moves efficiently around the kitchen. If my gaze bothers her, she shows no sign of it. She’s clearly at ease with her job and very professional.

I’m ready and waiting in the foyer when Grey appears. He looks preoccupied. He tosses me a car key.

“You drive.”

“Yes, sir.” They key fob says ‘Audi’ and I remember seeing the SUV in the garage.

Gail enters the foyer and it reminds me of my mom seeing me off to school. The thought makes me smile, but I hide it quickly.

“I won’t be back until late this evening, Mrs Jones, so if you could leave out something cold, please.”

“Of course, Mr Grey. Have a good day, sir.”

Shit! Mrs Jones? She’s married? I’m surprised by the surge of disappointment I feel. Probably just as well – mind on the job, Taylor.

We travel down to the garage in silence. I sense that Grey doesn’t do polite chat. Suits me. I’m not here to be his friend. He goes to exit the elevator first.

“Excuse me, sir?”

He takes the hint and lets me go first. Yep, all clear: nothing unusual to worry about.

I point the fob at the SUV and the lights flash once. I open the rear door for Grey and he gets in without speaking. As I slide into the driver seat I note with approval that he puts on his seatbelt without me having to remind him. Careful Mr Grey. I like that in a client.

It’s 7.15 in the morning and we’re barely out the garage before his cell rings.

“Ros? What? Yes. Ten minutes. Tell Andrea to set it up.”

Mr Grey insists that I drop him off at the front of his building. I’d rather have taken him into the underground lot where it’s more private, but he’s in no mood for waiting. He tells me to come to his office once I’ve parked.

There are only two other vehicles already there: a sporty Saab and a little Audi A2.

Security check me out as I enter the building: they know who I am so introductions aren’t necessary but they do their job. I make my way to the top floor as I did yesterday and the blonde is just leaving Grey’s office.

“Good morning, Mr Taylor. I’m Andrea Parker, Mr Grey’s Personal Assistant. We met yesterday. He’s asked me to explain his schedule for the week. You’ll liaise with me for the day-to-day timings.”

That makes things simple. Grey certainly likes to be organised.

“Andrea!”

I hear Grey yelling from his office. He sounds pissed about something.

“Where’s Taylor?”

“You’d better go in,” she whispers, looking slightly flustered.

I enter and see that Grey isn’t alone. He’s with a tall, strong-looking woman with short brown hair. Hmm, not a blonde.

“Ros, this is Taylor; Taylor, Ms Bailey.”

“Hello, Taylor.”

“Ma’am.” I know from Welch’s notes that Ros Bailey is Grey’s number two guy, er, woman, er, colleague.

Andrea enters with a notebook. When she looks at Grey, she flushes and her hands shake a little. What? I catch Ros rolling her eyes and she smirks at me.

Ok, I get it. Ms Bailey isn’t interested in Grey, for obvious reasons. It’s also obvious that Andrea is – and she’s getting nowhere fast. Odd, I thought he liked blondes. Maybe he’s smart enough not to fuck the staff.

The thought takes me back to Gail. I haven’t figured that one out yet. Married. Hmm.

“Taylor, we’ll be flying down to Portland this morning from Boeing. A change to the schedule: meeting at WSU. Leaving in five. Andrea, we’ll need a car from PDX and reschedule my morning meetings for later in the week.”

On the way out to Boeing, Grey gets a constant stream of phonecalls on his cell. Jeez, if I had that many calls while I was driving my safety record would be considerably dented. Most of them are short: Grey makes decisions quickly. The only person he seems to have longer calls from is Ros.

At Boeing we’re met by a guy I recognise slightly as one of the flight instructors. He nods at me.

“Mr Grey, she’s all ready for you, sir. Only three weeks to go now.”

I don’t know what they’re referring to but for the first time since I’ve met him, Grey smiles. For a second he looks his age, then the barrier comes down again and he’s talking wind speeds, air quality and visibility. I infer that Grey is making up his hours with a view to taking his pilot’s licence.

He runs through the pre-flight checks with his usual competence. I don’t like flying much: the memory of being shot at whilst airborne and being able to do fuck-all about it has never gone away; but his thoroughness is reassuring. Slightly. I try very hard not to grip onto my seat. It’s not done for the muscle to show white knuckles.

Fifty minutes later, Grey puts the chopper down on a brownstone building in Portland. Sol, the instructor hasn’t had to give him a single correction.

An old timer welcomes him back.

“Thanks, Joe. We’ll be back for her about noon, I hope. Maybe a little later.”

“Yes, sir, Mr Grey. Have a good day, sir.”

We’re on our way to WSU when Grey’s cell rings again. I see his eyes flick up to me in the rear view mirror.

“Welch, I’m going to put this on speakerphone so Taylor can hear.”

He taps a button and my old CO’s voice fills the car.

“An impromptu demonstration has been organised outside the Farming Division building, sir. Not serious, but could be messy.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” yells Grey suddenly, running his hand through his hair.

I’m surprised: I haven’t heard him lose his temper before. It seems to have come out of the blue.

“What have those fucking students got against feeding fucking developing countries?”

Welch’s reply is calm, pragmatic. “They think the research is to do with GM, sir.”

“Ignorant fuckers,” snarls Grey.

“The administration has suggested you use the rear entry, sir.”

For some reason his words make Grey smile. “Ok. I’ll take it under advice.”

He snaps off the phone, his equilibrium apparently restored.

“We’ll enter round the back, Taylor,” he says evenly.

As we approach WSU I can see small groups of students beginning to congregate. Automatically I lock the doors. I don’t usually drive with locked doors in case there’s an accident – emergency services lose time forcing locked doors – but in this sort of situation, or slow moving traffic, I do. Grey doesn’t speak, he just watches me, his face impassive. He doesn’t seem particularly phased at the thought of being a target for an angry, student mob.

The rear of the facility is quiet: clearly the students aren’t that well organised. Grey stalks inside to be met by an anxious looking professor type.

“Mr Grey, I’m so sorry that you’ve been inconvenienced. I can assure you that the… er… demonstration is not the opinion of all our students. I do hope it won’t influence your decision adversely. Ahem. The team here are very excited to meet you… that you’ve taken such an interest in their work.”

“Thank you, Dr Greenberg. After you.”

“Er, yes, of course, of course! This way.”

I’m slightly puzzled as to the reason for our visit. I don’t need to know, strictly speaking, but I’m interested. And, if I need to justify myself, it helps if I know a little of the client’s business. I assume Grey is involved in agrichemicals of some description but at Dr Greenberg chats away, showing us around a series of dull looking laboratories and into some hothouses that have desert like temperatures, I begin to understand that Grey is considering being some sort of benefactor. This surprises me. I’d assumed that being so rich so young, money was his only motivating factor. But apparently not. Yet another Grey-shaped mystery.

He waves away offers of coffee which is a pity. After the disrupted night and early start, I could really use a shot of caffeine. But my job is to be wallpaper, until I’m needed.

Finally we’re led into a meeting room. I stand by the door while Grey takes a seat. Every other person in the room is at least twice his age but there’s no doubt he commands the room with quiet authority.

“Is there, er, anything else you’d like to ask us, Mr Grey,” wheezes Dr Greenberg.

“Your grant application isn’t viable, Dr Greenberg,” says Grey.

The expectant, hopeful faces of the assorted academics and scientists are suddenly bereft.

“May… may I ask in what way?” asks the stalwart old professor.

“You’ll need a larger student body to meet your goals,” says Grey dispassionately, “and you need to accelerate the plans for crop rotation to pre-empt changes to the statutory research guidelines. In short: you need considerably more capital than you have budgeted for.”

A distressed silence fills the room.

“I propose that you increase your budget to $2.5 million on an annual basis for the next seven years if you wish to achieve all you have set out to achieve.”

The good professor gapes at him. “Mr Grey! We have… little hope or raising so much money. Our fundraisers are all volunteers. Our work cannot attract that sort of interest when there is no financial incentive for businesses to do so. Not that your business, I mean…”

He looks distraught and I feel sorry for him. Clearly he’s passionate about his work.

A small smile flickers across Grey’s face.

“You misunderstand me, Dr Greenberg. I’m saying that Grey Enterprises Holdings will fund your work here: $2.5 million annually for a term of seven years, to be reviewed in 13 months.”

Fuck! Did I just hear right? Grey is planning to give away $17.5 million dollars? From the expression on the face of everyone else, I’m not the only one wondering if they have a problem with earwax.

“You… you wish to… proceed?!”

“Indeed, Dr Greenberg,” says Grey quietly. “I’ll have my people send over the paperwork.”

He stands suddenly and the professor jumps.

“I… we… can’t thank you enough, Mr Grey. This is most generous… most generous indeed!”

“I look forward to seeing the positive results of your team’s research, Dr Greenberg. Thank you for your time.”

“No, no! Thank you, Mr Grey. I’m sure the university’s public relations team will be delighted to…”

Grey scowls and the professor visibly quails.

“No publicity!”

“No… no publicity?” The professor looks confused.

“None,” says Grey with finality.

He shakes hands with the professor who is looking rather limp and then stalks from the room, business concluded.

I really don’t get this guy. He’s just given away a formidable chunk of his own capital and he doesn’t want anyone to know? Hmm.

It’s late by the time we finally head back to Escala. I’m looking forward to seeing what Gail… I mean, Mrs Jones has made for dinner. But we’ve barely exited the elevator when a tall, beautiful girl with short brown hair throws herself at Grey.

“Christian, surprise!”

Surprise?! Jeez! She nearly gave me a heart attack. My hand was half way to my gun, for crissake.

I can’t help frowning. This girl looks young – too young.

“There you are, darling!”

I look away from the girl and see an attractive older woman walking towards us. Oh! I recognise her from the photographs: she’s Grey’s mother, so the girl must be his sister.

I relax immediately.

“Who’s he?” says the girl, looking at me.

“Taylor. He works for me, Mia,” says Grey. “Taylor, this is my mother, Doctor Grace Trevelyan-Grey and my sister Mia.”

“Hi, Taylor!” says the girl – Mia. “Nice to meet you.”

She holds out her hand.

“Ma’am.”

She giggles. We shake hands and she peeks up at me through her eyelashes.

“Have you got a gun?” she says.

I’m taken aback.

“Mia!” says her mother, shaking her head.

“I was just asking!” says Mia, pouting. “Have you?”

“That’s enough, Mia,” says Grey, looking angry.

To my surprise she completely ignores him. “Don’t be so bossy, Christian,” she says rolling her eyes then turns back to me. “I bet you have got a gun. Everyone disapproves of that, you know.”

I don’t know what to reply to that so I make my escape to the staff quarters.

I haven’t counted on the tenacious Miss Grey following me.

“I think it’s cool that Christian has a bodyguard,” she says, eyeing me up and down.

“I prefer the term close personal protection, Miss Grey.”

“It’s the same thing though, isn’t it,” she says giggling. “Christian’s a lot of trouble, you know. He drives everyone mad. But I think he likes you… I can see why.”

I don’t know if it’s particularly hot in the kitchen but I’m suddenly feeling rather hot under the collar. I walk around the breakfast bar to give me some distance from the force of nature that is Mia Grey.

“You look very strong, Taylor. Do you work out? I bet you do. I used to do Judo but I hated it. What did you do before you looked after Christian? Were you a soldier? I bet you were. My friends are going to be so jealous when I tell them I’ve met a real bodyguard.”

She follows me round the breakfast bar. I feel like I’m being stalked. Shit! I don’t have an escape route unless I actually climb over the breakfast far. Believe me, I’m considering it.

Suddenly Gail walks into the kitchen. I have never been so fucking glad to see back-up.

“Hi, Gail!” trills Mia. “I was just asking Taylor all about himself. Don’t you think he’s a hunk?”

“Good evening, Miss Grey,” says Gail calmly, although she looks a little pink. “Mr Grey has asked to see you in the main room.”

Mia pouts. “Oh, Christian’s always spoiling my fun. Never mind, Taylor, I’m sure we’ll be seeing lots of each other. Bye!”

She blows me a kiss, hugs Gail, and hurtles back to the main room.

“Are you alright?” says Gail sympathetically. “Miss Grey can be a little… overwhelming.”

Oh, fucking yes!

“You are a sight for sore eyes, Gail,” I manage to croak. “I thought I was going to have to shoot my way out of here.”

She laughs but I can see that she’s blushing, too, and I realise how else my words can have been interpreted. I blame little Miss Grey.

~~~~~~~~

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