Gail doesn’t sleep well. She thrashes about, muttering to herself. I’ve never heard her talk in her sleep before. The only word I can make out is “Don’t”.
I keep running through the security arrangements in my head. I can’t work out where the weak spot is. At four in the morning I give it up and get out of bed. Gail is frowning in her sleep and hitting out with her hands. I pull on jeans and a T-shirt and start working my way through the apartment again: I check every door, every window, every possible entry point except the balcony in the boss’s bedroom. She’d have to be fucking Spiderwoman to have got in through there.
I see a light on in the boss’s study. Someone else who can’t sleep. I don’t feel like talking to him, so I move back to the kitchen. But he’s not in his study, he’s sitting at the breakfast bar, still wearing the clothes he went soaring in. He hasn’t even tried to sleep.
I start to back out of the kitchen but I hear his low voice.
“Is Gail alright?”
I sigh. Ok, let’s do this.
“No, not really.”
“I’m sorry, Taylor. I have no idea what Leila was doing here. I haven’t spoken to her since she left. I couldn’t have guessed that she’d do this…”
“What do you mean?”
But I don’t need to answer because he gets it. “You think I made her as fucked up as I am.”
I walk away, because if I say anything now, one of us is going to really regret it.
In the morning we’re all tired and edgy. The alarm engineer arrives at 8am to check all the systems but I already know there’s nothing wrong with them.
I check the CCTV for the millionth time, but there’s no sign of Leila in the garage or in the foyer. It’s as if she just flew up to the thirtieth floor. I have my suspicions about one of the fire exits but there’s no sign of a forced entry and I know for a fact that the boss doesn’t give out keys to anyone. But just for my own piece of mind, I tape a small piece of cotton over the door to each fire escape. If anyone tries to enter, I’ll know about it.
I really fucking hate shutting the stable door after the horse has fucking bolted.
The boss is only just holding it together. The hospital administration is being difficult about updating us on Leila’s condition as none of us are related to her. And then things get worse.
“She fucking what?!”
Half of Seattle can probably hear the boss yelling.
“How? I thought we had eyes on her 24/7?”
He listens intently but my heart sinks. I can guess what’s happened: Leila left the hospital. She’s missing.
I watch him pacing up and down the main room.
“Will you be going into work today, sir?”
He turns abruptly. “Yes. Work. Twenty minutes, Taylor.”
After I drop him off, I park the SUV and head straight to my office to call a meeting of all security staff. There’s a frisson of excitement: I’ve never done this before at Grey House.
“Gentlemen… and Miss Johnson. We have a situation that you need to be aware of. This woman, Leila Williams…” I flash up her photograph on the wall, “has a personal grudge against Mr Grey. She attempted to enter his home yesterday but injured herself in the process.” No need to give the all the gory details. “She has absconded the hospital but is deemed to be a high level threat. Nobody, and I mean nobody, gets into Grey House without clearance through one of you. I don’t care if it’s a fucking pizza delivery boy with a blind monkey on his grandmother’s bicycle: no-one, gentlemen, no-one gets into Grey House without being vetted first. Any questions?”
“Mr Taylor, sir. Who is she? I heard that Mr Grey had a girlfriend… is she…?”
“We only know that she’s a random woman who has fixated on him. Anything else? Then back to work, people.”
I make sure they’re all jumping like frogs on a hotplate then head back to the apartment. I don’t like leaving Gail alone.
Welch has arranged for another driver to pick up Grey from work. No way I’m going to leave Gail by herself – even for an hour.
“Really, Jason. You don’t need to fuss – I’m fine.”
“Well I won’t be fine until we find Miss Williams… and then I’ll wring her scrawny fucking neck!”
Gail smiles weakly. But that’s an improvement.
By the evening there’s still no sign of Leila and it’s time for me to collect Miss Steele from the airport. The boss wants to be around if there’s any news but he won’t entrust Miss Steele to anyone else but me. Perhaps I should be flattered. I’m not.
I get to Sea-Tac in good time. For something to do I have the staff make up a sign that says ‘Miss A. Steele’. Yeah, I’m a funny guy.
Her flight is announced and after a short wait I see her walking out into the arrivals hall. As usual, she’s got her eyes fixed on the floor. When she finally looks up, she smiles.
“I do know what you look like, Taylor. I don’t need a board… and I do wish you’d call me Ana.”
I don’t like being informal with anyone to do with the boss, but she’s so sweet, I can’t say no to her.
“Ana. Can I take your bags, please?”
“No, I can manage, thank you.”
Oh, for fucks sake! Give me the damn bags so there’s actually some point to my fucking existence!
“But, if you’d be more comfortable taking them…” she stammers.
“Thank you. This way, ma’am.”
I hear her sigh and inside I’m smiling. She doesn’t give up.
I open the door for her and stow her small case in the trunk. The rush hour traffic is slow and I’m eager to get back.
“How’s Christian, Taylor?”
Her soft voice interrupts my musings.
“Mr Grey is preoccupied, Miss Steele.”
I meet her anxious gaze in the rear-view mirror.
I can tell she wants me to say more, but this is Grey’s shit, and it’s up to him how much he tells her.
“Is he okay?”
Poor kid. She really does care about the fucked up bastard. I want to tell her to run while she still can.
“I believe so, ma’am.”
She sighs. “Are you more comfortable calling me Miss Steele?”
“Oh, okay,” she says softly.
Eventually she asks me to put on some music, ‘something soothing’. I choose Pachabel’s Canon, a personal favorite, and soon we’re both lost in our thoughts as I steadily follow the lines of cars and trucks heading into the city.
It takes 25 minutes to get back to Escala. I can’t help smiling at her as I open the car door.
“I’ll bring up your luggage.”
“Thank you for meeting me.”
“It’s a pleasure, Miss Steele.” It really is.
I don’t know it yet, but the next time I see her things will be very different.
* * * *
Gail is in the kitchen, staring out of the window. I didn’t realise I was walking particularly quietly, but when she looks up she jumps and holds her hand to her heart.
“Oh, Jason! I didn’t hear you.”
A sob escapes her and I scoop her into my arms.
“Oh, baby. I hate to see you like this.”
We stand there, locked together, until her breathing calms.
“Are you packed?”
“Sure you don’t want me to drive you?”
“No, Mr Grey needs you. And Mr Welch said he’d call you later. I’ll be fine at Allison’s. I just… I just need to get away from here for a while.”
Away from all this fucked up shit. Away from me?
I walk her down to the garage and put her luggage in the trunk. “Call me when you get there.”
“It could be quite late.”
“I don’t care, baby. Just call me. I need to know you’ve arrived safely.”
I don’t give her a chance to argue; I sweep her into my arms and kiss her hard, letting her know how much she means to me, holding on tight until she pushes on my arms.
“Jason, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”
I watch her drive out and feel like a little piece of happiness has just dropped out of my life. I know she’ll be back on Sunday evening but, fuck, I’ll miss that woman.
I go back to my office and check through the CCTV footage one more time. There’s nothing to report.
I watch some dumb zombie film on TV until my eyelids feel like small people are stamping on them. Gail sends me a text message to say she’s arrived, but she doesn’t call. I guess she doesn’t want to speak to me. I can’t blame her.
I drag my weary carcass into bed. It’s too empty without Gail and with everything that’s happened in the last 48 hours, my brain is too busy to allow me to do more than doze for a few minutes at a time. At some point in the night I hear the boss playing the piano.
I seriously think about shooting the bastard, but that might upset Miss Steele.
Around 7am, I take a shower. When I look in the mirror, I realise I’m beginning to resemble one of those damn zombies: bloodshot eyes – check; drawn, haggard face – check; snazzy charcoal suit – oh, wait, that’s just me.
I head into the main room – and really wish I hadn’t.
Miss Steele is standing there, looking like she wants to audition for the same zombie film. It’s obvious she’s been crying and she’s walking kind of awkwardly. It hits me.
That fucker! That lousy fucker! He’s done it! He’s actually fucking done it! He’s hit her! I know it! I fucking know it! He’s beaten the shit out of her! She can’t even fucking walk properly!
I’m so angry, I can barely breathe. I know I should leave the room, but I stand there, my fists balled by my sides. It takes every bit of control, every bit of training I’ve ever had from stopping myself doing anything Grey would seriously regret.
I watch, frozen, as she lays out her BlackBerry, car key and laptop on the bar. I realise then that she’s leaving him. Finally, the girl has come to her senses.
But the look on the boss’s face shakes me to my core: he can’t believe what he’s seeing. He looks desperate.
“Ana! I don’t want those things. They’re yours! Please, take them.”
“No, Christian. I only accepted them under sufferance – and I don’t want them anymore.”
“Ana, be reasonable…”
As if that twisted fucker would recognise ‘reasonable’.
“I don’t want anything that will remind me of you.”
The kid stands her ground. She tells him all she wants is the money I got for her Beetle. I’m kind of surprised the boss hasn’t already given it to her. It’s not like he needs the interest on it.
“Taylor got a good price,” he tells her, twisting the truth ever so fucking slightly. “It’s a classic car. You can ask him.” He catches my eye. “He’ll take you home.”
“That’s fine. I can get myself home, thank you.”
Poor kid. She really wants nothing from him – nothing of him. I wonder how I’d feel if Gail ever spoke to me like that. The thought makes me shudder.
“Are you going to defy me at every turn?” His voice is low but furious. Once again the girl stands her ground. She is one fucking brave kid.
“Why change a habit of a lifetime.”
“Please, Ana, let Taylor take you home.”
I’ve never heard the boss beg before. I don’t think God has heard the boss beg before.
“I’ll get the car, Miss Steele.”
I can’t bear the tension in the room anymore. And Miss Steele needs a ride.
She exits the elevator alone and I can tell she’s only just holding it together. I open the door for her and she gets in, blank and wordless.
I head out onto 4th Avenue and she still hasn’t spoken. She’s trying hard not to cry but tears start to run down her face. At a stoplight I pass her my handkerchief.
“Thank you,” she gasps, then the floodgates open. She’s crying like her young heart is breaking and I just can’t bear it.
For only the third time in my life, I want to seriously hurt someone. The first time was when my bastard of a father hit my mom, and I tried to rip his head off; I was 14. The second time was in Afghan, and I don’t like to remember that. But the third time is right now: I want to hurt Grey as badly as this girl is hurting.
Rage pulses through me. Am I going to let him get away with this? How many more women are going to be broken on his rack? How many more Leilas? How many more Anas? How many times will Gail be put in danger because of his fucked up lifestyle. No. It stops here. It stops now, at least for me.
When I get back, I’m giving my notice – and for Gail, too. I won’t have her exposed to this fucked-upedness anymore.
When I help Miss Steele out of the car, she can’t speak. She can’t look at me. She just shakes her head when I ask if she’d like me to see her up. I watch her struggle to get her key out of her purse, her blue eyes blurred with tears. The glass door closes behind her and I see her fall to her knees. I think about staying to help her, but I know she wouldn’t want that.
“Goodbye, Miss Steele,” I say softly.
I drive back too fast. I want to run up the stairs because the elevator seems so slow, but I don’t. I need to calm my breathing. I need to get back in control, give my notice, pack up my shit – and get the fuck out.
But when the elevator doors open, I don’t do any of those things. Grey is sitting on the floor next to the elevator, his head in his hands. He looks up when he hears me – and I see a broken man.
Maybe it was his own stupidity… maybe it was his own fucked up, twisted fault… I don’t know. But suddenly all I see is a broken man, a drowning man, a good man who made a mistake. A man who had love – and threw it away.
“I’ve taken Miss Steele home, sir.”
He stares at me like he doesn’t understand the words, then nods very slowly.
“Thank you, Taylor.”
He looks down, almost puzzled, as if he can’t understand why he’s on the floor. He stands up slowly and walks away, his hands jammed into his pockets, his head hanging down.
It’s as if I can hear the sound of his heart splintering.