Chapter 1: The Well of Loneliness
Day One – Saturday
I feel so fucking useless.
Give me a target, give me something I can aim at, give me an armed insurgent with a Texas-sized death wish, give me something tangible that I can wrap my hands around and choke the living fuck out of – give me SOMETHING I CAN DO.
Instead I go to my office and work through the usual protocols: check CCTV; check the alarms on entrances and exits again; check Welch’s daily status report. Nothing to raise my pulse let alone provide a distraction.
Welch has been running down some leads on Leila Williams but there’s still no news. The best lead was the other sub, Susannah Bergen, but she’s been traced to her parents in San Luis Obispo. With nothing else to go on, all I can do is increase security. Welch has been briefed by Sawyer; Luke is on stand-by 24/7.
The apartment is quiet. I realise I’ve gotten used to having Ana Steele around. There’s always happy, upbeat music when she’s here; the sound of laughter and life. She’s so full of life… she was so full of life. A pulse of anger surges through me and I think back to how broken she was when I dropped her off at her home earlier today.
But she’s not the only one: the boss is in pieces. As long as I’ve known him, over four years now, I’ve never seen him like this. He has two coping mechanisms for dealing with bad days: fucking his subs bandy-legged or taking to the gym and making Bastille earn his money by beating the crap out of him. Kind of ironic, when you think about it.
Right now he’s doing neither. It makes me nervous. My job is based on predicting the unpredictable. No easy thing around the boss, but I’ve recognised certain patterns, certain likely responses to situations. But this is a new situation and I have no clue how he’s going to respond.
I decide to stroll by his study and make sure he’s not speed-dialling rent-a-sub.
He’s bent over his desk, ignoring the fucking spectacular view of Seattle at his feet. I used to think he got off on seeing all the little people running around in their small lives below. But I realised long ago that I was wrong about that. He likes it up here because he’s so far away from all that seething humanity: he can see it, but it can’t touch him and he remains invisible in his eerie fucking eyrie.
I’m surprised to see that he’s not poring over the kind of miniscule columns of numbers that would make most normal men go blind. Instead he’s got the plans for some sort of model airplane spread out.
Now that really freaks me out because the boss is so not a model airplane kind of guy. Yeah, so, like most kids I used to make Airfix models of tanks and shit like that but any grown man who spends hours doing that – well, I don’t get it – unless it’s sniffing the glue that gets them through the pointless fucking torture.
But the boss is counting out pieces of balsa wood and using glass-headed pins to attach the balsa to the plans.
I’ve seen some weird shit in this apartment but, other than the stuffed horse’s head the boss used to keep on his pillow, this is the freakiest shit ever! Okay, so I exaggerated about the horse’s head but you get where I’m coming from.
He’s a grown man for crying out loud! Well, sort of.
But as I get closer, it all makes a twisted sort of sense: it’s not just any old model airplane – it’s a model of a glider. Specifically a Blanik L-23. The glider that the boss flew in with Miss Steele.
She bought him a gift.
The little Co-ed with student debts bought the billionaire a toy airplane because it was the one way she could show him that she loved him.
And I feel so bad for her and bad for him, too. Hell, I’m so damn miserable I feel bad for myself and seriously consider ransacking Gail’s collection of show tunes to cheer myself up. Okay, maybe I’m not that desperate – not yet.
I watch for a few more moments, noting his total absorption, and back up out of his study.
Someone who didn’t know how that fucked up brain of his works might think he looked peaceful: I know that mad fucker better than anyone, and I can guarantee that his brain is whirling around like an ice-skater on acid. The only thing that’s missing is the tutu.
What would I do in his situation? What I would do if Gail decided to walk out of my life forever? The thought chills me because last night she promised she’d call once she got to her sister’s but then she only sent me a text. I may just be a humble guy, and not much given to introspection, but even I know that when your woman doesn’t want to speak to you, things ain’t looking so hot.
I can’t blame her: she’s been through some intense shit herself, courtesy of our boss who’s just won Mr Fucked-up USA for the fourth year running. And she doesn’t want to talk to me. Why? Is it because she sees me as part of all this craziness? We met here, we work here, we live here. Hell, we’ve lived with a dozen subs and watched him fuck them all into submission. What does that say about our view of life? I know it’s always made Gail uncomfortable but she maintains that the boss is a good man. I’d qualify that to say good, but severely fucked up. We have a term for that in the Marines: FUBAR – fucked up beyond all recognition. Could have been coined for Grey.
I wander back to my office and surf the internet for suitable high schools for Sophie. Yeah, yeah, I know she’s only seven but I just want to know what sort of schools there are in her area: never too early to put her name down for a good school.
And then a stray thought finds its way into the empty cavern that used to be called my brain: if I put Sophie in a good school, the best sort of school – it’ll be because Grey is paying for it. I mean, I haven’t been a complete dope: I’ve saved up a considerable chunk since I’ve worked for the generous fucker, but if I left his employment, that would all end. And my savings wouldn’t cover another 11 years of school plus college fees. Not if I planned on keeping up eating as one of my favorite hobbies.
It’s a sour thought: would I even want to stay with Grey for – fuck – 14 or 15 more years? What else would I do with myself? I can fix the rocker box of a leaky Triumph bike or JB weld a leaky primer cover, but neither of those skills is going to pay for my daughter’s college education. So the obvious choice is to stay in private security – unless I want to re-enlist and get my ass shot off in Afghan again.
Which leads me to another thorny problem: Gail. I don’t mean that Gail is a problem, hell no! Gail is Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and a Dream Girl all rolled into one and totally fuckable, just for the record (I may have mentioned that before), but she really isn’t keen on the whole he-wears-a-gun-to-work scenario. I have my suspicions that her continual refusal to marry me has something to do with that. Or maybe she’s just not that into you, Taylor.
Naw, that can’t be the reason. I may not be the smartest thing on two hind legs, but that woman is totally into me. And let’s face it, although modesty is my middle name, I’ve seen the way her girlfriends look at me and they’re not checking out the Gucci label in my jacket. Even her bitch of a sister Allison, isn’t quite as immune as she pretends. I’ve seen her checking out my ass when she thought no-one was looking.
But then a more sobering thought occurs: maybe I’m just good enough to keep Gail’s bed warm, but not good enough to marry.
Fuck! This is getting me nowhere – the boss’s fucked-upedness is contagious. I have to speak to Gail. Now.
I pull out my phone and dial. It immediately goes to voicemail. Shit! She really doesn’t want to talk to me.
I don’t leave a message.
Instead I decide to call Sophie.
“Hello, Palmer residence.”
I fucking hate that my daughter doesn’t use my surname.
“Hey, Princess! It’s daddy!”
“Hi daddy! Are you coming to see me? Because I’m going out now. Miranda is having a birthday party and it’s going to be totally cool! We’re going to eat pizza and do each other’s hair. Do you want to come, daddy? Oh, but you haven’t got any hair, have you?”
She giggles and my heart sighs.
“Still packing a full head of hair, baby girl!”
“Yes, but it’s too short, daddy. I can’t braid it or anything.”
“No, baby. You’ll have to braid mommy’s hair.”
“I can braid Steve’s – his hair is quite long.”
I grip the phone tighter.
“He’s mommy’s friend and he… oh, mommy says I have to go now. Bye, daddy!”
Then the Bitch takes over.
“What are you doing, Jason?”
“Talking to my daughter.”
“Why were you pumping her for information about Steve? It’s none of your damn business who I see!”
I’m so furious that I’m grinding my teeth. Thank fuck Grey pays for dental.
“I’m not pumping her for information, for fuck’s sake. She mentioned his name – that’s all! I don’t see why I shouldn’t know if some limp-dicked fucker is hanging around my daughter!”
Okay, so staying calm isn’t working.
“Don’t swear, Jason.”
That’s not the fucking point!
“What sort of ‘friend’?”
But the Bitch cuts me off.
At least I have something to do now: find out who the fuck this Steve character is – then cut him off at the knees.
Just then the calendar on my phone beeps reminding me that the boss is supposed to be going to the gala night at the Seattle Opera. As he was planning on going with Miss Steele I’m kind of assuming that he won’t want me to be his date. Pity: it was Andrea Bocelli singing Rigoletto.
Feeling a rise of blood pressure after that conversation with the Bitch (Best in Show, six years running), I wander over to the boss’s study. I’m about to knock when I hear his phone ring. I wish I could say it was Miss Steele calling but it’s not her ringtone. The boss has programmed his cell with ‘Martha’s Harbour’ – just for her and no-one else.
He must have it on speaker-phone because I can hear the caller as well as Grey’s replies.
“What do you want, Elena?”
Jeez, that scary-assed Wife of Frankenstein. The theme from Jaws should be her ring-tone.
“Oh, Christian. Don’t be so petulant. I just phoned to see how you got on in Saratoga.”
“Well? Did you find your little girlfriend as adorable as ever?”
“Fuck off, Elena.”
“Oh! It went that well? What happened? Didn’t she appreciate the enormous effort of you flying all that way after all?”
“Georgia was… great.”
“Don’t go into acting, darling! I can tell by your voice! Honestly, Christian, I know you better than you know yourself. Tell me what happened. Did you take my advice? Did you show her… who you really are? It’s only fair that she knows the real you before… before you do anything foolish.”
That fucking bitch!
“It wasn’t like that, Elena.”
“Well, what was it like? I’m waiting.”
“Yes. I showed her what I’m really like.”
“And? Could she take it?”
“Well? What did she do?”
“She left me.”
“Well, I can’t say I’m surprised, Christian. That’s what happens if you go and get involved with someone who’s not into the scene. Really, what were you thinking? Did you really expect some 21 year old child to just adapt to you like that?”
“I did: and I was only 15, if you remember.”
Fuck! He was only 15? Why is he still talking to that fucking pedophile? This is so fucked up! Do his parents know? No, I can’t believe the doc would let that whore in her house if she knew the truth!
“Yes, but it was so you, wasn’t it, Christian? What you needed. The truth is Anastasia couldn’t give you what you need, what you crave. Let me get onto Christine and I’ll sort out a suitable…”
“I don’t want another sub.”
“Why ever not?”
“I want… I want Ana.”
“Don’t be childish, Christian. She left you. She’s made it quite clear where her loyalties lie. Look, I’ll come over and we can talk all this through. I’ll…”
“No. I don’t want you to come over, Elena, and I don’t want to talk it through with you. Last time I talked it through with you, you told me to show Ana who I really was. And that got me exactly fucking nowhere.”
“Christian, you’re being unreasonable. Let’s talk about this.”
“Don’t come here, Elena, because I won’t be here.”
He ends the call abruptly and I hear a thud as he drops his cell back on his desk. Then he sits with his head in his hands and he’s so still. Major fucking meltdown!
Eventually he sits up and I start to breathe again: he goes back to his painstaking work on that dumb glider. Except it’s not so dumb: it was Ana’s gift – her last gift.
I give a quiet knock on the door.
“Yes,” he says softly. Not his usual snarl. Fuck. He’s off his game big time.
“Sir, the gala tonight.”
“Oh, that. I won’t be going, Taylor. Have the tickets. Take Gail.”
“She’s at her sister’s, sir.”
He looks up, puzzled.
“Oh. Yes, of course.”
“Are you planning on going out tonight, sir?”
“No. And I don’t want any visitors. No-one. Not even my family. Especially not them.”
I sit in my office and watch the sun set slowly in the west. The boss is still in his study. He hasn’t taken any calls, he hasn’t made any calls, he hasn’t drunk anything, he hasn’t eaten anything: he just sits in his study making that glider, piece by piece by piece.
If only it was so easy to put his life back together.
Day Two – Sunday
I don’t sleep well. The bed is too big without Gail. I miss the smell of her hair on my pillow. She smells like honey, sweet and strong. I miss the moment her eyes open when the first thing she does is smile at me. I miss the way she stretches her body around mind and we have slow, gentle wake-up sex. I miss the way she makes me laugh with just an expression. I miss the way she pours that fucking beautiful body into a sexy, pencil skirt and white shirt. I miss her food. I miss her jokes – even when they’re at my expense. I miss the ways she fills the space in my days.
And I have morning wood the size of a thousand year old oak tree and no-one at hand to sort it out. Sometimes life really sucks.
Then, of course, next door I have the King of Pain whose laugh-a-minute, breezy view of life has me reaching for the razor blades before I’ve had a shit, shower and a shave.
I decide to forego the shower and shave in case the boss is up for a run. But when I see him, I’m pretty fucking shocked. I can’t be sure, but I’d say he hasn’t fucking moved all night. He’s still sitting at his desk, still piecing together that damn model glider.
He glances up. His eyes look almost black in the early morning light: his expression makes me shiver. The lights are on, but there’s nobody home.
“Are you going running this morning, sir?”
“Morning?” He looks bemused, then stares out of the window as if he can’t believe the sun has decided to rise again. He looks down at his wristwatch and repeats, “morning?”
“Yes, sir. It’s 6am.”
“No. I won’t be running today. Thank you, Taylor.”
Thank you? He never thanks me! Fuck! He must be ill!
I wonder if I should call the doc but think better of it. He said he didn’t want to see his family. Can’t say I blame him: they’re like the Waltons on dope, there’s so much love going around.
I head back to the staff quarters to take that postponed shower and to get something for breakfast. I’m no Mario Batali but living with Seattle’s answer to Martha Stewart (before her… er… financial problems), I’ve picked up a few things. I wonder if I should make something for the boss, but decide it would be way too cosy cooking for the fucker. I can however, agree with myself to make him a cup of coffee. I make damn fine coffee, though I say it myself.
So I head on back to the study where that damn model is still in more pieces than Madonna’s underwear, and which I’m beginning to think of as some sort of Sisyphean task (yeah, yeah, I graduated high school – what of it?), and slap a mug of joe down in front of him.
He looks up and blinks. Yeah, I’m shocked too, boss. Just sharing the love.
“Coffee,” I say, stating the blindingly fucking obvious.
He nods and I have a strong suspicion that the fucker is laughing at me. Okay, when I say ‘laughing’ I really mean, straining his facial muscles in a way that might almost constitute a grimace but which, in his fifty shades of fucked-upedness, is probably a manly grin. Whatever. It’s an acknowledgement of my culinary prowess. Oh, yes.
So, with abso-fucking-lutely nothing on the agenda for the day, I run through the same old checks. But there’s fuck-all on the CCTV, not even car sex with that guy in apartment six who acts like a buck private with a 48 hour pass and his girlfriend’s best friend.
Pity. Cause there’s nothing on TV either.
Still nothing new from Welch. Still no trace of Miss Williams. She’s a smart cookie. I never particularly warmed to her: she was always watching; always poking her nose into things that didn’t concern her. I caught her in my office once. She said she was looking for scissors but that answer didn’t cut it with me. See what I did there? Yeah, I’m a funny guy.
But she’s giving Welch a run for his money and I don’t like it. If he can’t find her with all his contacts, it means she’s getting help from somewhere. Or someone. And that makes me fucking nervous. If she got in here once and I still have no fucking idea how she did that, then she can do it again.
My cell rings, saving me from the appalling idea of spending another day of sheer monotony with my own merry thoughts.
It’s the light of my life.
“Hey, baby! I’ve been trying to call you.”
“I know. I’m sorry, darling. I just needed… some space.”
My heart beats a little harder. Space from me?
“Are you coming home tonight?”
She sighs and I feel like every drop of blood in my body has just turned to dust.
“Yes, I’ll be home about 7pm.”
And I live again.
“Have you… have you found Miss Williams?”
I’d really like to fucking lie. But I can’t: not to her.
“No, baby. Welch is still looking, but she hasn’t been back here.”
“Well… that’s something. How was Miss Steele after her flight?”
How the fuck am I going to handle this one?
“Has something happened to Miss Steele? Is she ok?”
“I think she’s ok.”
Yeah, that’s a reasonably truthful response. Or possibly an outright lie. It probably depends on your point of view.
He beat the shit out of her and she cried enough tears to sink The Mighty Mo and then she left.
“I guess they had some kind of fight. She left.”
“Oh. Well, that doesn’t sound too bad: they’re always fighting. I think it’s one of the things that he loves about her – that she stands up to him.”
“What do you mean ‘hmm’? What aren’t you telling me, Jason?”
Why is that woman so damned perceptive?
“She was crying. A lot. She… didn’t look so good.”
“Well, I’m sure she’ll be back.”
“Sure she’ll be back.”
“Why do you say that?”
I sigh. Truth or dare? I go for truth.
“Because when she went she left her laptop, cell phone and car keys. She told him she didn’t want anything that reminded her of him.”
“Oh no! Oh, Jason, no! Poor Mr Grey! How is he?”
“He hasn’t said much.”
“He never does. What’s he doing? Has he eaten?”
“No, he hasn’t eaten. And he’s making a model airplane that Ana gave him.”
“A model airplane? Oh… And he hasn’t eaten at all?”
“Nope. Not unless he licked the plates keen and put them back in the cupboard.”
“I’m coming home.”
“I’m leaving now, Jason. I’ll see you at 1pm.”
“I… ok. See you later.”
She hangs up.
Fuck. She’ll come home six hours earlier than she’d planned for him.
Jealousy as strong as acid burns in my throat. Irrational, unreasonable, but I can’t help it. I know she’s just being… Gail… the mother hen… but it really, seriously pisses me off.
I think about heading down to the gym to work off some of my irritation, but as I walk past the boss’s study I glance in. He’s still fucking sitting there, still working on that damn model. Jeez, I’d give a pint of blood just to hear him pounding some wrist-slitting music on his fucking Steinway. But no, he sits there, his full concentration on that little bundle of paper, glue and balsa wood. Why is it so fucking important to him?
I know why: because it’s all he’s got left of her. That, and a photograph from her graduation that he uses as his screensaver – the picture where she looks like Bambi caught in the headlights of a ten ton truck. I know from experience that you can’t cuddle up to a photograph. Trust me, I’ve tried.
At least he’s drunk the damn coffee I made for him.
At 12.45pm my face creases into something my mom used to call a smile: Gail is back.
The elevator doors slide open. She’s wearing jeans that hug that delicious ass and a T-shirt that makes me want to rip it off her.
“How is he?”
What? Fuck! She wants to know about him.
“Still sitting in his study; still making that damn model.”
“Has he eaten?”
“You didn’t make him anything?”
“I made him a coffee!”
“For goodness sake, Jason!”
She bustles off, leaving me wanting to punch something.
I go back to my office, too angry to breathe straight.
Twenty minutes later the mouth-watering aroma of Gail’s tomato and basil sauce is wafting through the apartment. She walks past my office carrying a bowl of pasta. Past my office.
I can’t hear the words, but she’s talking to him like he’s a small child, or a wounded animal. Well, I guess he’s kind of both. Me, I’m just pissed and hungry.
I wander into the staff quarters and wait for her to return. When she does, she doesn’t meet my gaze.
Shit! This doesn’t look good.
“Gail… is everything ok?”
She takes a deep breath. I think about running.
“No. Not really. Mr Grey looks terrible… he barely seemed to know where he was. Have you called his parents?”
Now I know she’s deliberately avoiding my real question. She knows I’d never call the boss’s folks unless it looked like he was pegging out. Which he isn’t.
“Gail – I asked if you’re ok?”
“I… I don’t like being here.”
“I keep thinking… about that poor girl.”
Okay, it’s about Leila. Stay cool.
“Welch is looking for her. He’ll find her.”
Uh-oh – there’s more?
“And with all the security we have here… she still got in. I… I just don’t feel safe here anymore.”
Fuck! Is she blaming me? Shit. She should blame me.
She drops her gaze. Even with me here and she doesn’t feel safe. No wonder she didn’t want to come back: last time she was here some mad bitch was standing over her with a razorblade.
“Baby, I’m so sorry. I’ll do anything to stop you feeling like this. Anything.”
“Will you just hold me?”
And the world stops turning while I hold my precious girl.
Day Three – Monday
Last night Gail clung to me in a way she never has before. Despite her fears about being back in this pit of despair, she said I made her feel safe.
I made her feel safe. Thank God.
The boss is up, washed, shaved and dressed to kick some ass. But he hasn’t slept either and he’s hardly spoken. In fact the only words he’s said to me this morning, were an instruction to get a glass display cabinet for the fucking model glider. Which he finished, at some point before playing music-to-slit-your-wrists by at 4am, and screaming out in his nightmares until my ears began to bleed at 4.45am.
As we exit the elevator of Grey House at 6am, the only other people in the building are security staff.
Gail is going to be pissed that we both left without having breakfast but I couldn’t bring myself to wake her. She didn’t sleep well either.
Anyway, I bought subs for me and the boss, so no harm, no foul.
The security officer on the thirtieth floor gives me a discreet nod.
A buddy of mine used to work at this big time art museum in New York City. The security guards on the night shift used to spend most of their hours sleeping. Up until the time robbers decided to lift Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ but got stopped because they’d parked in a tow-zone. A rookie cop found them. Inside the van, they found blueprints of the building’s layout and a couple of shotguns. But when they tried to speak to the security staff, they couldn’t find anyone awake. After that there was a major shake-up. Personally I’d have paid them to take that piece of shit painting. Too much yellow.
That security lapse would never happen at Grey House. All the staff… all my staff know that their fucking lives depend on doing their jobs properly. No-one sleeps the night shift. Apart from anything else, they never know when Grey is going to be prowling the corridors like some ginger-haired Hound of the Baskervilles.
I head for my office while the boss places his precious glider on his desk and waits for the world to fall at his feet. Despite this, I know for a fact that there’s only one conquest he cares about today, and she’s across town starting her new job. At least, I hope she is. I hope she wasn’t home all weekend gluing pieces of balsa wood and paper together in the belief that mending one thing, will mend another.
And secondly, I hope she’s starting her new job because the boss is in play to buy the company. Unless, of course, he changes his mind. He never seemed very interested in publishing before. But who knows what tortured musings go on in that fucked up cranial cavity that passes for a brain. Why, Jason Taylor – you’re coming over all poetic. That’s me: rhymes and roses every time.
Andrea arrives at 7.45am and spends 15 minutes fixing her face in the ladies room. Same ritual every stinking day. I don’t need 15 minutes to be as suave and good-looking as I already am. But nature is rarely fucking fair.
Olivia trots in at 8.05am. She’s five minutes late and Andrea gives her a look that would freeze a solar flare.
At 8.30am I organise a quick catch-up with all security staff as they change from night- to day-shift. I remind them that Leila is still a perceived threat and tell them to check everyone going in and out. Everyone must display a valid security badge and I want spot-checks on those, too.
All visitors, even if it’s the fucking Queen Mother has to be vetted (especially her, as she’s been dead quite a while now). Every visitor is to have their photo taken which is then checked against the FBI’s facial recognition software. No exceptions.
The rest of the morning passes quietly until Ros comes to figure out what’s up with Grey.
“Come on, Taylor. Spill. Pleeease don’t tell me he’s still got woman trouble?!”
“You’d know more about that than me, Ros.”
“Don’t be so fucking funny or my tits will fall off.”
“Whatever grooves your truffle, Ros.”
She growls something unprintable that rhymes with Lamar Hunt and heads back to her office.
I’m sure glad she’s batting for the other team: it would be terrifying having her on the loose in Seattle. No man would be safe. Jeez, how does Gwen put up with her? I mean, she’s kinda nice. Nothing like old copper-drawers.
Yup, I do enjoy a bit of verbal sparring with Ms Bailey.
Next up for the Taylor treatment is Andrea. She’s noticed a change of demeanour in the boss, as well. For a start, Olivia isn’t the usual quivering wreck.
“I got a call from PR because they got a call from Seattle Opera. They wanted to know why Mr Grey hadn’t turned up for the gala. I guess they’re worried that their number one patron is begging off. Fess up, Taylor. What’s cooking?”
Why do all these women come to me? Yeah, yeah, I just live with the guy – it’s not like I’m going to have his babies.
“It’s all under control, Andrea. Nothing for you to worry about.”
“Yeah, and a flying fucking pig just shit on your shoes, Taylor. What the fuck is going on?”
She’s such a nice, sweet-tempered girl.
It’s a good thing I don’t approve of gambling, liquor or strong language, because my poker face would bankrupt me going up against the ice queen.
“A security situation.”
“Bullshit! He looks like his best friend just died – except he hasn’t gone any friends. And what about this Miss Steele he was supposed to go to the gala with? What happened to her? Was she the one he was seen with at that WSUV graduation ceremony? Is it something to do with her?”
Well, it’s the boss’s fault that Andrea is getting so close to the truth: he didn’t hire any dumb staff, that’s for sure. I just stare at her.
“You know he ordered flowers. Two dozen white roses. Dictated a message and everything. Melanie from the florists phoned me to check it wasn’t a hoax and that it was really him. I guess he was apologising for something, right? Guys only send flowers when they’ve done something they’re sorry for.”
I stare back and her eyes widen.
“You’re shitting me! She dumped him? She dumped him?!”
Andrea doesn’t just leap to conclusions, she fucking triple salchows to them.
“I didn’t say that.”
“Wow! She dumped him! I bet that never happened before. Apart from the fact I always thought he was gay anyway. Wow!”
“I didn’t say…”
But she’s already out the door.
I hold my head in my hands but it’s not my day for an introspective wallow.
Barney wanders into my office. He could be looking for the meaning of life: or possibly just the way to his desk. It’s hard to tell.
“I was thinking, we should put in an argon fire suppression system in the server room, it’ll be at least 38% more effective than our standard foam and water combo.”
He’s got my attention.
“Tell me more.”
I spend an interesting and informative half hour having the benefits of argon explained to me. It’s a relief to have a normal conversation. I decide it’s worth the $4,200,000 cost to install at all GEH properties across the US. The boss will need to approve it but I’m pretty certain he’ll like what he sees.
“Go ahead and prep a report for the boss. It looks like a sound investment.”
“Will do, Mr T. By the way, what’s up with the boss? He hasn’t yelled at me even once today.”
Nope. The boss didn’t hire any turkeys.
Day Four – Tuesday
I feel like I’m living in Groundhog Day. Gail is still having nightmares, the boss is still showing Hugo Wolf the real meaning of insanity, putting the misery in misericordiae and in between that fucking piano and screaming through his nightmares, I’m about ready to run off screaming.
For the first time in several days the boss wants to go for a run. Gail thinks that’s a good sign: that, and the fact that he seems to be eating normally again. I’m not so sure: what if he runs under a fucking truck?
He spent yesterday evening pacing up and down the main room at Escala. I saw him check his phone a dozen times. I got the impression that he was hoping, expecting even, that Miss Steele would call him.
I know he hasn’t been into the whole ‘girlfriend’ thing that long – and I’m not counting the subs – but if he really thinks some flowers are going to bring her running back after what he did to her, he’s got a lot to learn. But I reckon that’s exactly what he thought. And he doesn’t understand why it hasn’t worked. Join the club, Romeo: women never do what you think they should do.
“You’re going to have to talk to him, Jason.”
Gail’s lips are moving and sound is coming out but it makes no fucking sense. I had been looking forward to good old fashioned eggs and bacon and a quiet coffee for breakfast but now I sense that we’ll be having a conversation.
“Talk to who about what?”
Gail shakes her head and looks at me as if I’ve forgotten how to tie my shoe laces or zip my fly. I look down: nope, everything’s in place.
“About Miss Steele!”
Now I’m really confused. That one brain cell is feeling pretty lonely up there. At least, that’s how Gail is making me feel.
Then the light dawns. Holy fuck!
“Let me get this straight, Gail. You want me to talk to the boss about Miss Steele?!”
“And then after he fires me and kicks my sweet ass through the door, then what?”
She rolls her eyes.
“And what would I say to him anyways? Hey, bud, you know if you want girls to like you, it’s not a good idea to beat the shit out of them after fucking them till they can’t cross their legs.”
“Well, come on! Firstly, it’s none of my business; secondly, it’s none of your business; and thirdly, what makes you think he’d listen to me anyway?”
I think I might have gone too far because she gets that look on her face that would scare my old platoon sergeant into shitting his shorts.
“Well, firstly,” she says, all sarcastic, like she’s ticking it off on her fingers, “it is your business because you’re the closest thing he’s got to a friend; secondly it is my business because I’ve worked for him for four years, I like him and believe he’s a good man; and thirdly, actually, I can’t think of a third reason, but you really should talk to him.”
“Firstly,” I say, smirking back at her, “the only person he listens to is Dr Flynn and sometimes his mother; secondly, he’s got an appointment with the great shrink today; and thirdly, his mom scares me.”
“Aw, Jason, honey. Are you trying to tell me that a big, badass ex-Marine is scared of a lil ole paediatrician from Detroit?”
“Look, babe, I know you mean well and that you want to fix this for the boss, but you’ve just got to accept that you can’t. You can’t fix him and you can’t fix Miss Steele. He’s sent her flowers – she hasn’t responded. You know how stubborn women… er… some women can be.”
I grind to a halt, aware that I’m just opening my mouth to change feet.
Gail raises an eyebrow but she doesn’t leave me wriggling on the hook. Not today.
“So he’s seeing Dr Flynn?”
“Well, I’m glad about that. At least he’s talking to someone. I half expected that dreadful woman to be round fixing him up with a new submissive.”
“No! Really? When was that? What happened?”
“She phoned on Saturday. The boss was on speaker phone so I heard it all. You know what? She sounded like she was pleased that Ana had done a runner. She couldn’t wait to fix him up with a new sub. Practically offered to come round and interview them herself.”
I deliberately leave out the bit where I found out that she was the bitch who got the boss into all this BDSM shit when he was 15. If I told Gail that, she’d either be on the phone to the police or round to Mrs Lincoln’s lair to tear her limb from limb. I wouldn’t like to put money on who’d win that one. Gail would have sheer fucking rage on her side, but the Lincoln bitch has probably got an arsenal of whips and blunt objects in her panties drawer.
I really don’t want to dwell on that image. That cold-hearted troll gives me the shivers.
“Ugh! I can’t bear that woman! She’s just so… ugh!”
Words fail her, which is really saying something. I happen to know Gail was a straight A student.
We’re interrupted when the boss taps on our door. I really hope he didn’t overhear that conversation. But he looks so deep in thought, I’m not sure he’d notice a grizzly bear dancing the polka on First Avenue. Then again, polkas are a bit cheerful for the boss.
We head out across town. The boss’s pace is slower than usual and his gait isn’t as loose as usual. He’s obviously not into the run; usually he gets pretty competitive with me but today he’s some other place and from the expression on his face, I’m guessing it’s not somewhere happy.
Part of me wonders if maybe another woman – another submissive – would help him get over Ana Steele. But then again, does anyone ever get over their first love? I mean, sure, we move on because we have to, because life forces us to carry on; but most of get abused by love while we’re still in our teens and we’re young enough to believe that life will be a bed of roses now we’ve got enough manure to do a good job. But the boss is 27 – nearly 28 – and I’m pretty fucking certain that he’s never been in love before. That’s from four years of too fucking close observation, along with the Cadillac-size hints that Elliot used to drop. Mia, too.
Miss Steele certainly wasn’t his first fuck, but she was his first love.
We make it back to Escala with only minimal damage (the boss ran into the path of a Mini Cooper – injury was slight: it was parked at the time).
Then time to get suited, booted and beautiful before a visit to the chief headshrinker.
Flynn’s a pretty ok guy, for a Brit. Uses a lot of long words when one will do, but he won’t let the boss bullshit either.
They’re in there a fucking long time. I’ve watched penicillin grow at a faster speed. I trawl through every magazine in the waiting room. Who knew ‘Horse and Hound’ was such a racy read?
When the boss comes out he looks… calm. I don’t know what Flynn said to him, but the guy is a fucking witchdoctor. I’m definitely going to him when working for Grey makes me a complete fucking basket case. In fact, I could do with a session right now. I wonder how much he charges?
At Grey House, my ass is barely in my seat when I get a private conference call from Welch.
“Taylor. Welch here. We’ve had a sighting of the Williams woman. We think she was seen on some CCTV camera outside Grey House. We’re cleaning up the image now, just to be sure. If it was her, she was making sure that she kept her face away from the cameras. In all probability, she’s still in the area. If she has left, it wasn’t in her own car or by plane and she hasn’t used her credit card to buy any train tickets. In fact, she hasn’t used her credit card at all. How do you want to play it Taylor?”
“Eyes on the outside of Grey House 24/7 and outside of Escala.”
“What about other GEH properties?”
And then I make one of the biggest fucking mistakes of my life.
“No, I don’t think that’ll be necessary. She seems to be targeting places where she knows she’ll see the boss. She’s smart enough to know he rarely visits the other business locations. Just get your guys to do daily sweeps of The Grace: it’s probably the most exposed location.”
“Ok. I’ll leave it to you to tell Grey.”
“Gee, thanks, Welch. All the best jobs.”
“Kiss my ass, Taylor.”
“I’d rather chew off a badger’s scrotum. Over and out.”
I’m really not looking forward to giving the boss all this good news: the poor bastard is on a fucking Titanic of misery – and I just can’t face being the one to tell him that there are icebergs ahead.
Day Five – Wednesday
I’m so worried about Mr Grey. He looks terrible: so sad all the time. And he’s not sleeping at all. Three times I’ve got as far as dialling his mother but I don’t know what I’d say to her. Jason is right: it’s really not my business – except that it is.
I’ve worked for this man for four years and I really do care about him. Jason does, too, of course, except he won’t admit it. He pretends that he stays for the pay, or for me, but he’s fond of Mr Grey, too.
We’re only his staff, but he treats us with respect and consideration. He trusts us with his secrets and he’s never lied to us: he’s always been completely frank about his unhappy predilections.
I was so happy when he met Miss Steele: we both were and Jason absolutely adores her. She’s so sweet and cheeky and cheerful. She’s like sunshine wrapped up in a person. If I’d ever had children, she’s the kind of girl I’d have wanted for a daughter. And it was obvious to anyone who saw them together that she was head over heels in love with Mr Grey, and he with her. I can’t tell you what a joy it was to see him so happy.
He had such a difficult start in life. I suspect Jason knows more than he tells me, whether or not that’s to protect me or Mr Grey, I’m not sure. He said once something about the quality of Mr Grey’s nightmares reminding him about being in Afghanistan. He clammed up after that, but I guessed it was to do with what he’d seen over there. Well, it’s obvious to me that it’s a form of post traumatic stress disorder.
Dr Flynn has, no doubt, been working on that. No doubt. But the best therapy was definitely Miss Steele. She brought joy into his life when he never seemed to think he deserved any. So ridiculous, but that’s men for you: stubborn as the day they were born.
I’m still not comfortable being back at Escala. I hate being in the apartment by myself. I haven’t told Taylor, but I’ve taken to asking Frank the doorman to see me inside – just to make sure there’s nobody lurking. Frank is taking his escort duties very seriously – probably a little too seriously if I’m honest. But I can put up with his clumsy flirtation a lot better than seeing Leila Williams with a razorblade in her hand again.
I keep remembering her staring at me with those empty eyes just before she opened a vein. Oh, God. There was so much blood. But those eyes… that’s what scared me the most – because I knew that she believed she had nothing left to live for.
I really don’t know how we’re going to get through the rest of the week. Mr Grey has his mother’s fundraiser dinner-dance to go to on Saturday. And there are all those pretty dresses in Miss Steele’s wardrobe. I can’t bear to ask Mr Grey what he wants me to do with them. Perhaps he’s forgotten about them. Well, that’s hardly likely: he never forgets anything. Except to sleep, sometimes.
I hope Miss Grey doesn’t ask him too many questions. She’s a sweet girl, but my goodness, she can talk. And I fear if she starts asking about Miss Steele, there’ll be more than fireworks going off. Which is something else I have to worry about. Poor Jason hates fireworks. The reason is obvious: he’s been in one too many close fire-fights when he did his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He doesn’t like to talk about it: not to me. Sometimes he goes out for a drink or three with his Marine buddies and he talks to them. I wish he could talk to me but I suppose it’s only something that you can explain to someone who’s been there and seen it: walked a mile in his shoes, so to speak.
At least Luke Sawyer is going with him to the dinner-dance. They seem to get on well, which is quite unusual for Jason. Normally he gets very territorial over his security duties. Men.
I wonder if Mr Grey will be up to going over the menus for the next few days. Probably not. I’ll just choose some of his favorites. He adores my macaroni and cheese. I think he finds it comforting. Dr Trevelyan told me once that it was one of the first meals she gave him when he went to live with her. I can just imagine him as an adorable little copper-haired boy. He’s still adorable, of course, and my goodness, women certainly throw themselves at him. But he’s got a temper, as well. That I can attest to, although he’s never shouted at me. And I hope he never does. If nothing else, Jason would make him regret it.
The thought makes me smile.
When my first husband died, I didn’t think I’d find love again. I certainly didn’t think I’d find it with a younger man. I am a very lucky woman. I know the last week has been hard for Jason: he feels so guilty that Miss Williams got into the apartment, but I don’t blame him. I really don’t.
I’ve found it a difficult time and I’ve rather taken it out on him. I need to let him know that I don’t blame him – that I still love him. And I’ve got something in mind.
The phone rings, shaking me out of my increasingly erotic reverie.
“Jason, is everything ok?”
“Sure, everything is good.”
“Oh? What’s happened?”
“The boss has just told me he wants Charlie Tango to fly up to Portland tomorrow evening.”
“Oh, so he won’t want supper.”
“Nope. But that’s not the good bit.”
“Jason, you really do like to draw things out!”
“You’re the only woman who draws things out of me, baby.”
“Yes, well, I’ve been thinking about that. Are you free tonight?”
“I wasn’t thinking of charging you, baby!”
“Very funny, Jason.”
“But I forgot the good news…”
“Yes, the boss is taking Miss Steele to Portland with him.”
And I have the biggest smile on my face.
Oh, thank fuck for that!