Chapter 11: It’s a Wonderful Life
I am so sick of women crying. How the fuck is that helpful to anyone?
Grey and Ros have been missing for seven hours now. Charlie Tango disappeared from radar in the Silver Lake area near Mount Saint Helens.
What the fuck was he doing over there? Joy riding? And that really isn’t a sentence I thought I’d see anywhere near Grey, but there’s no other explanation.
And how the hell did the safest heli on the market lose both of its engines at the same time?
I park that thought at the back of my brain for analysis later. Right now, I’m coordinating intel from rescue services, and feeding info to Andrea so she can throw some crumbs to the media who are circling like vultures.
Fucking paps are outside Escala now. I want to go down there and clear those assholes off of the sidewalk, but apparently violence against those fuckers is still frowned on. Who knew?
Frank, the doorman, is in his element, making sure no one so much as breathes on the windows either side of the entrance. I’ve sent him reinforcements, but I think he’s about to re-stage the invasion of Danang. I had to make sure he hasn’t got any weapons. Fucker tried to impress Gail by telling her he had a Bowie knife in his sock. Said knife is now lying on my desk.
Gail isn’t. Impressed, I mean. Not by that short, wall-eyed tosser. She’s in the staff quarters rustling up sandwiches for those who want them. That’s me and Elliot then. No one else is the least bit hungry, but I’ve been up for 36 hours and I’m fucking starving. I have to stay alert and on top of things for the boss’s sake. Food is fuel.
Gail has pulled her shit together and although she’s red-eyed and kinda shaky, she’s actually doing something useful. God, I love that woman.
Ana is almost catatonic, which scares me more than all the howling and wailing that started when Mia Grey arrived. The doc is white-faced but composed and Mr. Grey has been stalking me through the apartment, trying to ‘do something to help’. But there’s nothing to do.
Rescue services are flying helis over the area where air traffic control last had a reading. But there are no roads in that area, so we can’t get wheels in – not even ATVs. They’re about to call off the search until morning, and there’s not a fucking thing I can do about it. The light is too bad now for safe flying.
And, let’s face it, they might just be looking for the smudge on the side of a mountain, or a scattering of tooled engine parts. Parts of a body.
That’s not something you ever forget – collecting body parts to bag up and send home.
I don’t want that to be the end of Grey’s story – or Ana’s. The girl is in shock, pale and ice-cold. The doc is keeping an eye on her, giving her hot, sweet tea, that sort of thing, but nothing helps. She’s just waiting. Her heart has been ripped out of her body. It’s still beating, but with each minute that passes, it beats a little slower, a little weaker and I’m so fucking scared it’s going to just stop and there’ll be nothing left.
And what will it all have meant? Everything that she’s been through? Everything Grey has been through?
I’ve known that twisted bastard for four years now. I’ve hated him, despised him, admired him, learned from him, and I’ve pitied him. Fuck it, I’ve even liked him, and I don’t like many people. He’s every color of fucked up but at least he knows it and tries to be a better man. There aren’t many like him – okay, there’s no one like the boss, but how many people really try hard to be better – I mean, really drive themselves like that.
He may not think it himself, in fact I know he doesn’t, but he’s good.
And I can’t help wondering where we’d all be if he wasn’t around? I’d be doing some close protection job, maybe in Dubai or some other hotter than Hades place. Gail and I would never have met, which really fucking slays me. She could be working for some ass-wipe in a country pile with his E-type jags, treating her like a goddamn slave. Ana would still be this quiet, closed-off, lonely little bookworm, not the strong vibrant woman she’s become.
Our lives would be less if we’d never met Grey. And for a guy who has the most monotone name in history, our lives would be a lot less colorful.
And what if they don’t find him alive? What then? Ana will be broken, living – but not; a shell. Doc and Mr. Grey will be older and tireder and sadder. Mia and Elliot will have lost a brother, someone who cares for them, challenges them and loves them without question.
And what about me and Gail? We’ll still be together, but we’d have to find somewhere that needed a housekeeper and a… whatever the hell I am – driver, security, go-to guy.
I just want the boss to walk in that door with balloons tied to his head, drunk as a skunk, yelling ‘surprise’ and doing his happy dance.
Okay, I’ll settle for him just walking in the door.
I feel guilty when I realize I haven’t even thought about how Gwen must be feeling, waiting for Ros to walk in. I know Andrea is staying in touch with her, but I don’t even know if Gwen has got people with her. I know that her family doesn’t speak to her, or Ros’s. I really don’t fucking get that? I mean, you don’t plan who you fall in love with, so what the fuck does it matter? But apparently it does. Life is nasty, short and brutish. Find love where you can – then hold the fuck onto it.
Okay, here’s one thing I can fix.
I call Andrea.
“Is there news?” she gasps.
I am such a fucking shit-brain. Of course she’d think that was why I was phoning.
“No, not yet, Andrea. But maybe you can do something about Gwen. Has she got somebody with her?”
“Oh,” says Andrea, softly. “I don’t know. I’ll find out. If not, I’ll get someone over there. If I forget to tell you tomorrow, Jason Taylor, you are a real sweet guy.”
What the fuck? I’m harder than fucking nails! I drink my own piss, eat black powder and fart fireworks! I am not real sweet!
I stare at the cellphone in my hand as if the fucker is about to turn to chocolate, and I can hear Andrea snuffling on the end of the line. Gimme a fucking break with the weeping women!
“Yeah, just make sure she’s not alone.”
Next call – a fucking sensible one, I hope – is to Welch. I need to check the arrangements for the 200 ex-military we’ve got flying in from all over the US. Starting at dawn tomorrow, there’ll be a fingertip search of the entire Silver Lake area. We’ve got mountaineering specialists, guys used to working in rough terrain, as well as a team of rangers who know the area like the back of their hand. And two medivac helis, in case we’re bringing out anyone alive. It’s not looking good but I’m preparing for all eventualities: that’s what I do.
“Welch, what’s the sit rep?”
“What about the forensics team from Donauwörth?”
“On way. ETA JFK 05.00 EST. Whatever went wrong with Charlie Tango, they’ll find it. Their reputation is on the line: no one will want to buy ‘the world’s safest helicopter’ if Grey… well, I don’t need to draw you a picture. They’re also sending some bigwig from EADS, the parent company. I’ve freed up a hangar at the Boeing Field and have arranged for a heavy-lift chopper to bring back… wreckage, whatever they find.”
“I want that fucking hangar secured: no one gets in or out. And no fucking reporters get in. None. All staff subject to full external body search and all camera phones and recording devices held before entry is allowed. I want a full list of everyone who had access at Boeing Field for the last two months. Update the threat list to Grey and all his family – including Miss Steele. Email the report asap.”
“Roger and out.”
Frustration makes me short, but Welch understands. We couldn’t protect the boss, but we can do our best to protect his family – and to find out what the fuck has happened.
I wonder if the boss is standing at the pearly gates right now, swearing his head off because I’ve fucked up. Maybe he’s chained himself to the railings – that’s if he had handcuffs with him when he died – he probably did; he carries his second-best pair everywhere. Fuck! If he died. Fucking if he died.
“Jason, I’ve made you a sandwich. You have to eat.”
I look up and realize that I’ve been staring at the cellphone in my hand since I hung up with Welch.
Gail looks tired and her eyes are red, but to me it’s like seeing an oasis in the desert. The look on my face tells her everything she needs to know and she walks towards me. I wrap my arms around her and bury my face in her waist. She smells of baking and home.
“You mustn’t give up, Jason.”
I sigh and look up.
“I’m planning for the worst,” and hoping for the best.
She nods. She understands.
My cell rings and she kisses me lightly before going back to doling out food to anyone who can bear to put something in their stomachs. Yeah, I’ll eat. Someone has to stop the rest of the wheels from falling off.
“Welch, talk to me.”
“Mountain rescue is on stand-by and 72% of the search team is now in Seattle. Rest are on way.”
I take a bite of the sandwich without even noticing if it’s chicken, cheese or curried fucking goat. I glance up and see that Mr. Grey senior is standing at the door.
“Sir,” I say, standing up.
He waves his hand tiredly.
“Please sit, Taylor. I didn’t mean to interrupt your meal. Is there any news?”
“We’re good to go for a 05.30 start, sir. We’ll find him. And Ms Bailey.”
I’m lying through my teeth. We both know it.
“Thank you for that. It’s something… something I can tell the others.”
I nod, because I have no fucking words.
He sighs, and rubs his hands over his face. He’s aged ten years in the last few hours. We all have, I think.
“Sir, there is one other thing I have to talk to you about.”
“Yes, Taylor? What is it?”
He sounds like he couldn’t care less.
“Mr. Grey made a contingency plan for emergencies – such as this. It activates eight hours… from his last communication in the event of… unforeseen circumstances. Sir, it names Ms Bailey and yourself as joint Executors of his estate – all of GEH – everything. We’re nearing that threshold, sir. I just needed to let you know.” Because you’ll be in charge.
“Yes, sir. It’s updated regularly and – just recently – he made some specific requests vis a vis Ms Steele.”
He shakes his head. “I just want my son home safe, Taylor.”
He gives a small smile.
“That’s so like Christian: wanting to control things even after… well. It’s so like Christian.”
He walks away with his head hanging down, as if his thoughts are too heavy for his skull. Yeah, I get that.
My cell rings again. What the fuck does Frank the doorman want? If he thinks Gail is going to take him a sandwich, he can just fuck right off.
“Mr. Taylor! He’s here!”
“Mr. Grey! He just walked in.”
“Carrick Grey and Elliot Grey are with me now,” you fucking moron.
“No! Mr. Christian Grey! He’s on his way up now!”
I drop the phone, not caring whether or not I’ve cut off Frank the Fuck.
CCTV shows me that he’s not a complete fucking fantasist and that the boss is indeed in the elevator on his way up. He’s barefoot and leaning back against the wall with his eyes closed. He looks like shit and I am so fucking relieved that I could run three laps around a Super Bowl stadium stark naked, if Janet Jackson hadn’t already done something similar.
Technically, I should go and debrief him on the day’s events, but his family is waiting. This is a time for family: I’m just the hired help. Even so, I can’t help being drawn towards the main room.
Carrick Grey sees him first.
They’re all crowding round him, laughing and crying, stunned with happiness and disbelief.
Gail runs out and then stops, her hand over her mouth and tears in her eyes.
“He’s back,” she whispers. “Oh, Jason! He’s really back!”
And she hugs me so tight, I think my ribs will crack – and I don’t care.
She waits until they’ve had their moment and the boss is reunited with his woman, then Gail goes in to offer food.
It’s clear the boss is hungry, tired, thirsty and bewildered by the attention.
Dumb fuck didn’t even realize that people were missing him. Really makes me want to kick the shit out of his dumb ass. If it weren’t for the whole salary with benefits thing.
Gail hurries back with a Budvar and then dashes off to the kitchen, happy to be useful. Yeah, I get that, as well.
The boss looks up and sees me watching: and you know what that miserable fucking twisted bastard of a bat-shit crazy boss says to me?
Goddamn him for remembering! I wanted to kick the shit out of him five seconds ago; now I have to be fucking grateful to him. Again. Fucking bastard. Damn his GQ-designer hide. I really like that dumb fuck. So sue me.
“She’s fine now. False alarm, sir.”
He smiles. He fucking smiles at me. Yeah, boss, still working on that whole happy feet routine. ‘Nother time maybe. Next time we think you’ve fucking popped your clogs. You cool with that? Great.
“Glad you’re back, sir.” This damn twisted world wouldn’t be the same without you, you bastard. “Will that be all?”
“We have a helicopter to pick up.”
Yeah, someone mentioned that, for fuck’s sake!
“Now? Or will the morning do?”
See – I can be funny. I’m all for the humor. Go, me!
“Morning, I think, Taylor.”
Too fucking right.
“Very good, Mr. Grey. Anything else, sir?”
He raises his beer to me and I can’t help smiling at the smug tosser.
I head back to the office and tell Welch to call off the morning’s search party. I authorize him to pay them triple overtime, expenses and a bonus. I know what it’s like to suit up and then have the op called off. But they came – so they’ll be paid properly.
Next call is Andrea.
“Oh, God, Jason! Has he been found? Please just tell me he’s been found!”
“Yeah, Andrea. All in one piece. Happy, clappy, fucking sappy. Spread the word.”
“I love you, Jason Taylor!” she yells, before cutting me off.
Sometime after 2am, I make it to bed. The search team has been stood down but forensics and the recovery team will still start at dawn.
Gail blinks at me sleepily as I stagger over and climb in.
“What a day!”
“Sure was, baby. I’m fucking happy it’s over.”
“I’m happy it’s a happy ever after ending,” she says.
Her comment makes me laugh, except for the fact my mouth doesn’t actually move.
“Yeah, but this is the boss we’re talking about: he only does happy for happy hour – I don’t know about ever after. That might be pushing it a bit.”
“It’s good enough for now,” she says sleepily.
Can’t argue with that.
When I wake up, I can’t remember why it feels like my eyelids have been glued to my eyeballs. And then the memories come back like a fucking Hollywood epic. You’ve seen it all here, folks: Drama! Heartache! Love and loss! A Hero in Peril! A Damsel in Distress! The Hired Fucking Help Who Needs A New Fucking Job! Roll up! Roll up!
Gail prods me gently and wafts a bacon sandwich under my nose.
If she doesn’t count as the perfect woman, I’m going to have to go marry Julie Fucking Andrews instead.
Groaning slightly, and feeling every day of my 37 years, I sit up, propping the pillows behind me.
“Christ! I don’t know who I fucked in the last life to meet a woman like you, baby, but it was damn well worth it.”
“Interesting way of putting it, Jason, but you might want to rethink the communication between your brain and your mouth before you find your bacon sandwich inserted into an orifice for which nature did not intend it.”
Yeah, well, I’m a smart guy, so I don’t reply. That bacon looks crispy – and I really don’t want to shit toast. Not on a Saturday.
I smile while Gail gives me the stink-eye, except she can’t keep it up. Yeah, I’m irresistible. Born that way and just grew bigger. What can I say?
After dragging my sorry ass out of bed, and limping into the shower, I present myself front and centre to hear Grey’s debrief.
Except the lazy bastard isn’t out of bed. Well, technically he is, except he’s getting down and dirty in the play pit. Whatever. I’ve got a shed load of work to do and Welch has been calling me since 6am. Just because he hasn’t had any sleep, no need to share the pain. Good thing I switched off my cell – something I never, ever do, as a rule. Well, fuck: there are exceptions to every rule – learned that in the Marines. Of course, you have to know what the rules are before you break them: Boot Camp 101.
When the boss finally gets his ass out of the sling, or handcuffs, or whatever fuck-toy he’s been using, we get down to business.
As he describes the fire in the cockpit I get a really nasty feeling deep down. That was no electrical short-circuit: it smells more and more like sabotage. Neither of us want to say it, and we’ll have to wait until forensics confirms it, but Grey has security at GEH and his other offices doubled; then trebled for all his family and Ms Steele. Discreetly, of course. Because if this is sabotage, we don’t want to tip off the fucker – or fuckers – who did it.
When Ana asks me about it later, it makes me really fucking uncomfortable. I keep the conversation short: she doesn’t need to know that the probability of someone wanting to kill her boyfriend just tipped in favor of the bad guys. Intel like that could give the girl nightmares – if she wasn’t already living with King Nightmare.
She’s tougher than she looks. She’s going to need to be. Billionaires come at a price – pun intended.
I spend the day going over the logistics with Welch and keeping in touch with the recovery of Charlie Tango.
The Eurocopter team can’t believe the boss managed to land it in pretty much one piece.
Grey’s response is to issue a memo ordering all staff, when out of the office on official business to carry water and walking shoes. Oh wait, that came from Ros. Weird.
The boss and Ana head out for dinner at his folks and to celebrate his 28th birthday. Jeez, that makes me feel old. And just to prove that I’m not, I take my woman to bed and fuck her seven shades from Sunday.
That’s my sort of happy ever after.
Yeah, I’m a born romantic.
Taylor’s adventures in Europe with people who don’t speak American!