Lots of ex-servicemen get nightmares: real screaming fucking shits. But it’s nothing compared to how I feel at the thought of an afternoon on a small yacht with a certain Miss Mia Grey.
For a start, I’m not a great sailor. Yeah, yeah, I know, ex-Marine, ought to have seawater in his veins, but there’s a helluva difference between being on a 40,000 ton Naval destroyer and a fucking 33 foot canoe with a teenager whose hormones are more rampant than an armoured tank division and whose come-to-bed eyes are flashing fucking neon.
“Hi, Taylor! How are you?”
“Fine, thank you, ma’am.”
“It’s going to be such fun to go sailing, isn’t it? Do you like sailing? I love sailing. It’s one of my favourite things in the whole world. Christian loves sailing, too, don’t you, Christian?”
He doesn’t bother to reply but I can see him rolling his eyes.
I’ve met the whole Grey family en masse for the first time. A family day of enforced enjoyment is not my idea of fun, well, not since I got divorced, but the Greys seem to get on well enough. In fact it’s kinda weird to see my boss unwind to such an extent. I swear I actually saw him smile, although it was just the once.
I did a quick check of the family yacht just to make sure there was nothing obvious awry but it all looked shipshape. Look, I’m trying to get into the fucking spirit of things, ok? But Grey sussed that I wasn’t A-ok with the whole set-up.
“Er… I think I’d better stay with the vehicles on land, sir,” I say, nervously flicking my eyes towards Miss Grey, who blows me a kiss whilst my boss is watching, for fuck’s sake!
His eyes narrow and I think he’s got every right to fire my sorry ass, but instead he says,
“Good point, Taylor. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”
Jeez. That was a close shave.
Mia pouts at him. I mean she actually pouts. I can see her mother having words with her. Frankly, if I were her father, I’d buy a ball and chain and a shotgun and hire a 24/7 bodyguard: a female, ex-Soviet, shot-putter bodyguard might do it. Just.
Grey Sr comes over to talk to me. I don’t do talking. But I’m polite and answer his clever-assed lawyer questions in a neutral way. I don’t care if you are my client’s father, I’m still not telling you jack-shit. Oddly, he seems pleased by my taciturn responses and I sense I’ve passed some sort of test with him.
He’s obviously very fond of his son but they’re all kind of formal with him: no hugging, not even from the mother. Although little Miss Grey seems to follow a set of her own rules. No surprise there. She hugged him hard enough to fell a linebacker but he just grinned down at her, which was kinda sweet. I’m seeing my client in a whole new light today.
Then the elder brother, Elliott Grey, turns up. There’s no file on him, of course, but Welch filled me on the basic details. Runs his own construction company but, unusually, doesn’t seem to give bribes to by-pass zoning laws – into all that environmental shit, solar panels and carbon-neutral homes. Likes women – lots of them.
But it’s his greeting to his brother that nearly has me passing out from shock.
“Hey, little bro, you been laid yet, or are you still batting zero? You’ll be 24 soon, time to break that duck. I’m sure I could find some nice college girl for you to practise on… or college boy, whatever’s your thing.”
“Fuck off, Elliott,” says Grey, without being particularly annoyed, just mildly irritated.
I can’t help staring at my client as it becomes obvious that his family have no fucking clue about his lifestyle. His own brother thinks he’s a virgin, for fuck’s sake, and from the sound of it, not entirely sure if he’s straight either.
Jeez, this is taking secrecy to a whole new level. I mean, how has he managed to hide the fact that he has a playroom in his apartment? I can’t believe little Miss Grey hasn’t been through that place like a wrecking ball through a wet paper bag. But I guess not. It’s an eye-opener.
From my peripheral vision I can see that Grey is watching me but my face is still at the neutral setting: no siree, I ain’t giving nothin’ away.
He lets his own brother tease him about being gay. I don’t get that at all. I mean, he just screwed a certain Miss Saunders for five hours straight, no pun intended, and he doesn’t have one word to say to his brother who thinks he’s a virgin.
Nope. It doesn’t add up. Not to me. I mean, no-one just starts out having S&M relationships, do they? But for all I know Harvard had S&M frat clubs. Didn’t he ever date? Obviously not or his family would have known he isn’t gay. There’s something weird here; I mean more weird. It’s obvious he cares about his family and I can see they love him, but you couldn’t say they were close – they don’t know anything about him. I mean, Christ, I’ve known him for one fucking week and I already know him better than they do. Not that’s it any of my business, except in so far as it affects how I do my job.
The other thing that surprises me is that he left the Saunders woman with the run of his apartment while he’s out. For a guy who’s so obsessed with privacy, for very good reasons, he didn’t seem the least bit phased by that.
Once the Greys leave, I wander down through the marina looking at the sailboats and gin-palace type motor cruisers until I find a bar with a clear view of the whole quay. I read a newspaper and drink a coffee. It’s not bad, but not as good as Gail’s. I wonder what she’s doing this weekend. I wonder if she’s with her husband.
The thought sours my mood so I read the sports pages and wish I’d brought a book to read. I like Huxley and Burgess but when I was a kid I read all of Rider Haggard’s novels. It’s sort of why I joined the Marines – looking for more adventure that I could find in small town Idaho, I guess.
The happy family return a couple of hours later and Grey effortlessly arranges it so I’m not left alone with his sister. I wonder if he’s going to have words for me in the car about her but he doesn’t say anything. He seems preoccupied, lost in thought.
When we get back to Escala he gives me the rest of the day off. I assume he’s going to his playroom but instead he heads for his office. He seems addicted to work: screwing and sailing seem to be the only ways he has to let off steam. He doesn’t seem to drink much, he doesn’t smoke, and I know his stance on drugs. All his employees have a one-strike-and-you’re-out clause in their contracts – including me. I don’t need drugs: I’m just high on life.
As I’m not needed, I decide to head out and grab a beer, catch a few games at a sports bar I spotted down the road, do normal Joe stuff, when I see the Saunders woman peeping around the door at me. I don’t like the fact that she’s come into the staff wing. This is private. Fuck off!
“Is Ma… Mr Grey back?”
“Yes, ma’am. He’s in his office.”
She already knows that – she’s just walked past his fucking office!
“Can I ask you something… about Mr Grey?”
“No, ma’am, you can’t.”
“Oh! I won’t tell him I’ve spoken to you.”
This is getting annoying. I need to cut her off.
“Ma’am, I have nothing to say to you.”
Suddenly I see Grey standing in the door way. His face is pale with fury. The Saunders woman goes white when she sees him.
“Playroom,” he snarls at her.
She scuttles away looking terrified. And the look on his face – it’s fucking frightening, like he’s hanging onto to his self-control by the merest thread. I feel bad for whatever the Saunders woman has coming but she can always say no.
I stare impassively at Grey waiting for him to say something to me but I can see that his fury has ebbed a notch and he turns on his heel and leaves.
I’m so fucking glad to be out of that apartment for the next few hours. When I return, the place is quiet. I check the CCTV, out of habit, and note that the Saunders woman’s blue Audi has gone from the garage. Whether she left or was kicked out I don’t know.
I’m woken in the small hours by the sound of the piano coming from the main room. I drift back to sleep listening to Chopin.
Sunday passes uneventfully: Grey is in a foul mood, but that’s nothing new. He takes it out on his spreadsheets and some poor sap I hear him yelling at over the phone. About lunchtime some removal people arrive to empty all the clothes and personal effects from what was Miss Saunders room. And he tells me that she’s no longer on his list of permitted visitors. Hasta la vista, Miss Saunders. Then the engineer arrives to fix the faulty wiring on the emergency exit, but the day drags on and on.
So I sit in my office going glassy-eyed over more Grey House personnel files when the CCTV shows me that Gail has arrived back. It irritates me that I’m so fucking happy to see her. For all I know, she’s someone else who’s been playing happy families this weekend. But I can’t help myself: I stroll out to the foyer to meet her coming up in the elevator.
She’s surprised to see me but beams this huge smile and I can’t help smiling back.
“Hello, Jason! How nice of you to meet me. Did you have a good weekend?”
I know she’s just being polite but her voice is so sweet and warm, it feels personal. Then I remember that she’s asked me a question.
“It passed, Gail. It passed.”
She smiles sympathetically. “Well, I bet you’re ready for a change from cold-cuts, aren’t you. How about risotto with chorizo for supper?”
“That sounds damn fine, thank you, Gail.”
She smiles that beautiful smile again.
“And how is Mr Grey?”
“Preoccupied. Miss Saunders left: her clothes have been cleared out.”
“Oh dear,” she sighs.
And that’s all she says.
Suddenly the elevator call button rings: someone’s on their way up. One of Grey’s family, perhaps? But I’d sure as hell better find out, so I jog back to my office and look at the CCTV. It’s a blonde woman in her late thirties. I assume, from the permitted list, that it must be a Mrs Lincoln. I don’t know how she fits into things, but she must be close to Grey if she’s got the garage and elevator codes. Maybe another of his playroom playmates? I know he likes blondes.
I pass Gail on the way to the staff wing as I head back to meet the elevator.
“It’s a Mrs Lincoln,” I tell her.
Her mouth tightens slightly. “I see,” she says. And I deduce from this that Gail dislikes the woman for some reason. Interesting.
I knock on Grey’s office door.
“What?” he spits at me.
“Mrs Lincoln is on her way up.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake! What does she want? Fuck. Show her in.”
He’s obviously delighted to see her.
The elevator doors open and Mrs Lincoln walks out. She’s stunning in a cool, clinical way. Perfect figure; perfect, coiffed, salon hair; expensive designer clothes; real diamond earrings. Her ice-blue eyes stare at me appraisingly whilst her bee-stung lips curve up in a smile. She’s good at faking sincerity.
“Good evening, Mrs Lincoln. Mr Grey is in his office, ma’am.”
“Oh, thank you. Taylor, I presume?”
And she knows who I am.
She smiles again but there’s something unpleasantly chilly about Mrs Lincoln. Her expression is shark-like, predatory.
I overhear the exchange as she enters Grey’s office.
“Good evening, Christian.”
“What do you want, Elena? I’m working.”
His response is churlish, almost childish.
“Just dropping in to see an old friend, Christian. Are you going to offer me a drink?”
Seems like Mrs L isn’t intimidated by Grey, unlike most people.
He leads her out to the main room and I head back to my office. I can hear the tone of their voices but not their words. She sounds like she’s scolding him about something and he’s taking it. I’m intrigued.
I check through the files in the cabinet as well as the electronic files that I have access to for my work. There’s no personal file but a reference to a business arrangement that Grey has with Mrs Lincoln. I’m bemused to see that he has a stake in her chain of beauty salons. It just doesn’t seem to fit in with his other business interests. Maybe he’s the silent partner.
My stomach rumbles, reminding me of Gail’s offer of food. I wander into the kitchen, lured by the delicious smells that emanate. But Gail’s demeanour is stiff and she’s crashing around in a very noisy, un-Gail-like way.
“I really can’t stand that woman!” she hisses between clenched teeth.
“Who else?!” she snaps.
I’m taken aback. Why is she mad at me? Fucking women!
“Oh, sorry, Jason,” she apologises immediately. “It’s just she sets my teeth on edge. I know, I know. It’s none of my business who Mr Grey entertains but there’s something so… cold and calculating about her. And the way she watches him, pretending to be all sweetness and light, when really…”
“Oh, just listen to me. I mustn’t talk out of turn. Please forget I said anything, Jason.”
“Your secrets are safe with me, Gail.” All of them, whatever they are.
She sighs. “Thank you. I really shouldn’t talk about Dr Trevelyan’s friend like this.”
“Mrs Lincoln is a friend of Mr Grey’s mother?”
“Why, yes. At least, that’s how he introduced her to me. Dr Trevelyan mentioned that Mr Grey did some work around the yard for Mrs Lincoln when he was at school. A Saturday job, I presume. I think that’s how they met…” She looks puzzled. “That’s right, isn’t it?”
“I’ve no idea,” I say, somewhat disingenuously.
Gail frowns and I fish around for a way to change the subject.
“How was your weekend?”
“Oh, restful, thank you. More so than yours, I think!” she says smiling and arching one eyebrow.
I decide to probe a little further.
“What did you do?”
read some books, went for a walk by the ocean. Nothing much.”
“Sounds real nice, Gail.”
She smiles at me. “Yes, it was.”
She still hasn’t mentioned her husband. Ok, time to play or pay.
“Were you walking with Mr Jones?”
She blinks up at me, her lovely blue eyes clouding over. Oh, shit!
“My husband passed away five years ago… I would have thought you’d seen that in my file, Jason.”
“I… I haven’t read your file, Gail.”
“Oh.” She pauses, then smiles. “I see.”
I realise I’m staring at her: her smile fades slowly and her breath catches in her throat. I take a step forward and then the fucking kitchen intercom buzzes.
Gail blinks twice then answers:
“Yes, Mr Grey… I’ll bring it through right away for you.”
She smiles sweetly and busies herself over the stove, her cheeks pink. I shake my head. What are you fucking doing, Taylor?! She’s staff! You’re staff! Do you want to lose her her fucking job?!
I head back to my office and pull myself together. It’s a golden fucking rule: never, ever screw your workmates. Of course, that wasn’t a problem when I was in the Marines. Perhaps you should join a fucking monastery, then, Taylor!
To clear my mind, I think about what Gail told me about Mrs Lincoln and what I’ve read in her file: she’s a family friend; she’s in business with Grey; she’s not intimidated by him; the way she scolds him; she has his private access code; she’s cold and authoritative; he worked for her when he was an adolescent; she’s one scary mother-fucker… and suddenly I get it – the whole S&M thing, the reason Grey has apparently never had a date, the reason his family know nothing about his twisted lifestyle. It all adds up to one thing: Mrs Elena Lincoln.