“Claude! Get your damn ass in here! When are you going to get yourself a damn answering service? I’m tired of being your unpaid Personal Assistant!”
Michelle was yelling at me. Nothing new in that. What was it about big sisters that made them so damn bossy? Scratch that: it was probably just women in general.
“I mean it, Claude. If you want to build up your business you’ve got to get yourself organised. I’m tired of taking messages for you. I’m running a fitness centre, not a damn dating agency!”
It was true, a large number of the people who tried to book me as their personal trainer were women. Though I say it myself, I get more than my share of interested looks and a lot of women give me their cell phone numbers. But I’m not dumb enough to mix business with pleasure, even though some of my clients are so hot they could melt glass.
One of the reason my sister gets so many messages for me is that I never give out my cell phone number. My family have it, which means Michelle and her husband Stu, our mom who’s retired to Arizona and a few, serious clients.
Michelle and Stu manage a gym and fitness centre in downtown Seattle near to the Denny Triangle. They have five personal trainers on their books but since I arrived in town, I’ve been their top pro. No freakin’ surprise there. I was on the kick-boxing squad for the Beijing Olympics eighteen months ago. No, I didn’t get a medal but I came fifth, which is pretty damn good. Yeah, I’d have liked a medal: I’d have liked that a lot. But life is what happens while you’re making other plans – least, that’s what mom used to say. Get over it, get on with it: that’s what Claude Bastille says.
I lived out in LA for a couple of years and it was interesting working with actors bulking up to play roles in movies, but I’m a Seattle boy born and bred and I missed the rain. That probably sounds crazy but I’d had enough of an itinerant lifestyle, living out of a suitcase, following film productions on location. It sounds glamorous but it gets old pretty quick.
I’d been back in Seattle for three months and had got a pretty decent clientele. It worked well with Michelle and Stu: I brought clients to their gym; they recommended me to the pick of their members – people they knew who could pay my fees. I set my price high to weed out the wannabes; I didn’t waste my time on anyone who wasn’t going to be dedicated. But it had kind of worked against me: higher fees meant that the people who could afford me tended to be older guys – fat fuckers who spent too much of their time behind a desk and who thought working out once a week would be enough to ward off middle-aged spread.
I was beginning to think I’d made a mistake coming back here: I was bored and needed a new challenge. Yeah, I know: be careful what you wish for.
Michelle was sitting at her desk, up to her eyeballs in paperwork. It was one of the reasons that I had no interest in running my own gym. I didn’t want to get bogged down in First Aid, Health & Safety Certifications, employment records, staff appraisals… well, that wasn’t me.
She looked up and held out a piece of paper.
“Potential new client.”
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? You just took a number and said I’d call?”
I gazed at her with derision. That wasn’t like my feisty sister.
“You want me to come over there and whup your hide?”
I grinned back at her.
She huffed a few times and sucked on her teeth.
“I don’t know because this guy’s driver or bodyguard or whatever, was the one who came in: said his boss was looking for kickboxing training from you. He asked for you by name, Claude. Anyway, this guy, name of Taylor, just said for you to call to schedule an appointment. That clear enough for you? Oh, and by the way, he was a serious piece of muscle himself: and he was packing.”
I frowned at her.
“He had a gun?”
“Yes. So whoever this guy is, he must be pretty damn important. Could be a good client: so don’t dismiss this one out of hand.”
I sighed. I knew she was right, but I really didn’t want to pretend to train another flabby white guy who thought he was hardcore because he was working out with an ex-Olympic brother.
I decided I’d see him once and make up my own mind.
I picked up Michelle’s phone and she slapped my hand.
“Why aren’t you using your own damn phone! I have bills to pay!”
“Because I don’t want this security guy to have my cell number.”
I figured ‘hmm’ meant ‘ok use the damn phone but be quick about it’. I grinned while she sucked her teeth at me again, and I dialled the number I’d been given.
The call was answered immediately.
“This is Claude Bastille. I understand you have a client who wants a kickboxing trainer.”
“Yes. Are you available for a training session this evening?”
That was unexpected. What the hell: I happened to be available and no particular lady to let down, so I had nothing to lose.
“Sure. Any time after 6pm.”
“7pm. I’ll give you the address.”
“Woah, wait up? I don’t make house calls. If your client wants a training session, he’ll have to come to the Yasalta Fitness Center on Olive Way. I’ll book a private training room.”
“No, that’s not acceptable. We have a fully-equipped training room on site. Double your normal fee.”
I really hate fuckers like that: they think if they throw enough money, you’ll just roll over. Well, not me. That sort of assumption makes me stubborn. It must be in the genes: I blame our mom.
“No deal, man. If your boss isn’t prepared to come here, I’m not interested.”
There was a short pause and I could hear him having a conversation in the background. He was soon back on the phone.
“You terms are acceptable providing you agree to a security sweep prior to his arrival.”
Who was this mystery man – the fucking President? I didn’t think Michelle would be too happy at the idea of having armed heavies roaming around her gym. Maybe the muscle got the picture because he said,
“It’ll be discreet.”
“It had better be, or my sister will have your ass.”
I sensed the guy smiling on the other end of the phone. Oh yeah, he’d already met Michelle. At least he knew I wasn’t joking.
“No problem. 7pm.”
He cut the call and I realized I still didn’t know who the hell I was going to be seeing. Michelle raised her eyebrows and smirked at me.
I was doing some warm up stretches in the private training room I’d booked later that evening, when Michelle came storming in.
“Claude! What the hell is this? Mr Taylor here says you ok-ed it for him to do a security sweep of my gym.”
Aw hell, I forgot to tell her!
“Sorry, sis. It kinda slipped my mind. He said he’d be discreet.”
Michelle was right when she said this guy looked a serious piece of muscle. He could handle himself. I guessed he was ex-military. The buzz-cut gave it away. Myself, I have some seriously cool dreads – they’re kinda my thing.
I stood up and shook hands apologetically. Damn, he had a sharp suit. I’d have to ask him who his tailor was. Taylor’s tailor, yeah, yeah.
Muttering under breath in a way that made me think I hadn’t heard the last of this, Michelle took the Taylor guy to check out the building. While I was waiting for the all-clear, I headed out into the main fitness area.
A group of women in fancy schmancy aerobic outfits were giggling together. You see them in every gym in every city: just there to trim some fat and ogle anything male in a T-shirt. Gym bunnies. I turned to see who they were looking at this time. A tall guy I didn’t recognise was running on one of the machines. I could see why they were staring: he was a good-looking bastard with a lean, hard runner’s body, in a singlet and running shorts. He was definitely new: I would have remembered seeing him before, and that coppery hair of his was pretty distinctive.
If it bugged him that the women were blatantly staring at him, he didn’t show it, but he wasn’t encouraging them either. He was listening to his iPod and focussed on running. He had a long, loose gait and I could tell he ran regularly.
I looked around the gym to see if I could guess who was the Taylor guy’s boss. Nobody fit the bill and I was beginning to feel irritated. I hated people being late.
The guy on the running machine looked at his watch then over to me. He slowed his run then turned the machine off and sauntered over.
Aw, hell. I hoped he wasn’t going to make a pass at me. He was probably one of those guys who cruised gyms using his work-out sessions as a pick-up. He certainly wasn’t looking at the ladies and one or two of them were mighty fine.
Boy, did I ever get that wrong!
“Good evening, Mr Bastille. My name is Christian Grey. My driver Taylor booked an appointment with you for me.”
He held out his hand.
I was struck dumb. This was my appointment? He couldn’t have been more than about 25 or 26. How did he rate having his own personal security? And then his name sank in. Christian Grey. The Christian Grey and Bill Gates-type rich. Shit! He’s young. Younger than me! Bastard!
Grey stared at me impassively as I shook his hand but I could tell he was amused. He was probably used to people having that sort of reaction to him.
I understood the whole security thing now. The guy was a billionaire. And it wasn’t inherited money: he’d done it all himself. This guy must have cojones the size of watermelons.
Time to be professional.
“So, Mr Grey, I understand you want to learn kickboxing?”
“Well, I want to continue studying, yes.”
“I see. What level did you get to?”
“I did a couple of smoker fights but strictly amateur. I trained with Matt Peters.”
That surprised me. This was definitely looking more interesting. If this guy could handle himself the way I thought he might, it would actually make an enjoyable change training with him. And I couldn’t wait to kick him on his smug ass.
“Let’s make a start then, Mr Grey. I’ve reserved a private training room.”
I cast an eye over the flock of women who were still staring.
“Good,” he said, without looking at them.
I went to change into my sweats and peered through the training room window. The Taylor guy had positioned himself outside. Inside Grey was doing a set of warm-up stretches. I was impressed: the guy was pretty limber.
He looked up expectantly as I walked in and stood up in one smooth move.
“Ok, we’ll do a ten minutes of warm-ups; ten minutes of reps; twenty minutes of training so I can see where you’re at; fifteen minutes of sparring, maybe; and five minutes of warm downs.”
I didn’t wait for him to agree. This was my training room and I was in charge. I thought he might try and argue but he just nodded and waited for his first instruction. That really surprised me. I’ve trained a lot of powerful guys from movie stars to state senators and they all had one thing in common: they wanted to be the ones to call the shots, and they could get pretty damned worked up when I set the pace. Grey was different.
I was certainly right about how fit this guy was; in fact I’d go so far as to say he was only slightly less fit than some of the guys I’d trained with on the Olympic squad. He had no problem with the warm-ups or reps but when it came to the training I could see he was slightly out of practice. His moves were a little slow, and too obviously telegraphed. He was good, but I was better. And if this guy wanted me to seriously train him, I wanted to know how he’d react when I showed that I was better than him, the superior fighter. Some guys can’t take it.
He moved in with a quick jab. I blocked it easily then whipped my left leg round catching him in the hip.
He went down but turned it into a break-roll. He stood up, breathing hard and rubbing his side.
“Fuck! I had that coming! I’ve got so fucking slow!”
He was angry, but at himself. Yeah, I can work this guy. I grinned at him.
“Not bad. When was the last time you sparred seriously?”
“A couple of years ago. Taylor’s thing is more regular boxing.”
We sparred for another ten minutes and then worked through the warm downs.
“Well, Mr Grey, how was that for you?”
He grinned at me. “Good, until you kicked me on my ass!”
“Yeah, well, if you want to me to do it again, I can schedule a weekly appointment for you here.”
“No offence to your sister, Mr Bastille, but I’d rather train in my own building where it’s… private.”
I sighed. “Like I told your man, Taylor, I don’t do house-calls.”
“I appreciate that, but I’d like you to at least consider it. I have a private gym in my office building. And I’d like to schedule daily appointments – not just once a week.”
My mouth fell open in surprise. I figured a guy like Grey, busy running his billionaire empire, wouldn’t have the time or inclination to train every day.
“Not weekends,” he said. “I’m… busy on weekends.”
Figured. He probably had a girlfriend – or boyfriend – to see to his needs then. I was pretty good at reading people, but I couldn’t read Grey. At least not yet.
I made a decision: the truth was I’d really enjoyed sparring with him. It made a change to train someone who actually presented something of a challenge. Most of clients were just after general fitness training and liked the idea of having ex-Olympian do it. Grey wanted more. I was definitely in the market for more.
“Ok, I’ll come and see your gym. If it checks out, I guess I can work from there.”
He held out his hand.
“Thank you, Mr Bastille.”
Of course, his gym was top of the range. There was nothing left for me to complain about.
We began our five-times-a-week training schedule the next day. Except for when he was away on business, he never cancelled. I wondered how he managed to fit in everything else he did along with running his company – organisation and discipline are obviously important to him. The more I found out about him, the more extraordinary he seemed. I got the impression he didn’t need much sleep: probably as little as four hours a night. Damn, I loved sleeping.
Taylor was usually there when I arrived for our sessions. Sometimes I could see that he’d been working out himself. He didn’t talk much but he was 100% loyal to Grey. It was no shit off my shovel: I wasn’t there to chat.
One day Grey came into the training session still yelling at someone on his Blackberry.
“What the fuck are you talking about? That is such fucking shit! I said no: tell them to pull their fingers out or I’ll come down there and do it for them – then fire the fuckers.”
He threw his cell phone onto the floor in disgust. I’d never seen him lose it before. He was always such an in control kind of guy. I realized that he’d only shown me one side to himself before; there was a lot more under the surface.
That evening we really went at it and he came close to landing me on my ass but I just managed to avoid him. He had a look in his eye that I’d never seen before: totally driven. It was part of what made him so successful, I guess. But he still couldn’t beat me and I could see that it frustrated the hell out of him.
“Fuck it!” he yelled.
I couldn’t help smirking at him. For a moment I thought he was going to lose it and I’ve have to knock him back for real, but then he grinned at me.
“I have to play fucking golf tomorrow,” he said. “What a fucking waste of time.”
It was the first time I’d ever heard him say anything the least bit personal in three months of seeing him almost every day.
“You don’t like golf? So why play it?”
He shrugged. “A lot of business is done on the fairways.”
That was true.
I spent a lot of time at Rainier, a challenging 18-hole course, and also at West Seattle.
“We should play a round some time, Grey,” I said cordially.
He raised his eyebrows. “You play golf? You like golf?”
I laughed at his expression. “Sure. You should check out my handicap. I could probably help you improve your game.”
“Fuck!” he laughed. “You kick my ass in here – you may as well kick it out on the greens too. I bet Giuseppe DeNatale doesn’t play golf,” he murmured to himself.
I smiled: there weren’t many of clients who could take a beating without sulking about it. I found myself looking forward to seeing what Grey could do on a Links course.
He arranged for us to meet at the Ritz of Washington golf clubs: a challenging par 71 layout, with amazing views of the Cascade mountain range. In one way I wasn’t surprised: it was a top quality course and sometimes used in pro-am series. It cost thousands to be a member and you couldn’t even get to be a member unless your great, great grandaddy had been a member. When I’d looked around some while back, it had all been very polite but I’d got the impression that a black guy with dreads was not the kind of member they were looking for. So it amused me to see the same fuckers kowtowing to me now that I was with Grey. Amused me and made me pissed, too. I wondered whether Grey had chosen the place deliberately. It would be his sort of play.
I wasn’t surprised to see that Grey wasn’t bad at golf: his drive was good and his putting was adequate, but unlike the kickboxing, I could tell he wasn’t really into it. I was also surprised that he introduced me to a number of the influential names we met out there. He didn’t even say I was his trainer; he just introduced me as Mr Claude Bastille, which I thought was kinda cool.
Of course, I whupped his ass out on the fairways, too, but it didn’t bother him like it did when he had a bad day kickboxing.
Thanks to his introductions, I was getting more offers of work than I could handle and today I was having to reschedule one of our appointments. As I was in the area, I decided to wander into Grey House and talk to the delectable Andrea Parker in person. She acted like the ice queen but I could tell she was into me. I was seriously thinking about asking her out and risk mixing a little business with pleasure. But, to my surprise, she told me Grey was free and I was to go on in and see him.
“Hey, Grey! How you doing, man?”
“Good thanks, Claude. Andrea says you’re rescheduling our appointment tomorrow.”
“Sure, but it’s just a one-off: you’re not the only one who’s getting famous, man!”
He shook his head and hid a smile. Then he groaned.
“Fucking reporters: I’ve got one coming to see me now. Why the fuck I agreed to this…”
“Cos you’re getting soft, man. I whupped you in the gym and I whupped you on the fairways.”
He threw me an irritated look but I could tell he was amused, too. I figured not too many people stood up to him.
We shook hands and I walked out of his office to try my luck with the ice queen.
“Golf this week, Grey?” I called over my shoulder.
“Fuck off, Bastille.”
I hear him mutter under his breath and I can’t help smiling.
Unfortunately the delectable Ms Parker isn’t alone. Olivia looks like she’s been drinking entirely too much coffee and there’s a cute little brunette sitting in the waiting area. Damn, she’s got the most amazing blue eyes! Pity she dresses like a student. I figure she must be the journalist Grey was talking about. She looks so nervous. Poor kid; he’ll eat her for breakfast.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” I smile at them.
I try to get Andrea’s attention but she’s looking at the kid.
“Mr Grey will see you now, Miss Steele,” she says.
The girl leaps up like she’s been electrocuted. Oh well, I’ll talk to Ms Parker next week.