Chapter 17 – Hell on Wheels
Miss Steele has driven back to her apartment in her shiny, red A3 and I’ve taken the boss to Grey House. Now I’m heading back to Escala to help Gail with the grocery shopping. Having four adults in the apartment has severely depleted reserves apparently.
Gail is waiting at the entrance when I drive up. Damn, she looks hot. There’s something so incredibly sexy about that crisp white blouse and smart, pencil skirt: all that passion, all those amazing curves, hidden by a severe uniform. Maybe it’s just me. Nope: not just me. Frank, the doorman has too many fucking eyeballs on her. Back off, asshole! She’s taken!
I pull up a short distance from the entrance. No way I’m having that fucker open the door for her! I jump out and give Frank a warning stare. He steps back. Yeah, message received and understood, pencil neck!
I help Gail into the SUV and she raises an eyebrow at me, an amused expression on her face. Yeah, yeah, just taking care of my lady.
“Where to, ma’am?”
“Uptown, please, Jason. The Market: I really need to do some serious re-stocking and they have the best cheese selection. It’s been lovely having Miss Steele to stay, she’s such a sweetheart, but we do seem to have got through a lot more food than usual.”
“Probably because they spend all their time fu… er… screw… They need the energy.”
“I could say the same about you, Jason,” she says challengingly.
“I’m addicted to you, baby. Makes me hungry… and not just for food.”
“Concentrate on driving, Jason!”
“Yes, ma’am,” I grin at her.
She shakes her head, but she’s smiling.
“Well,” she says, amused, “at least Mr Grey will be back to his normal routine for a few days.”
Ok, normality and the boss aren’t two concepts that I’d usually expect to find in one sentence. Besides, I think she’s wrong.
“You think? Because my guess it’s going to be Portland all over again.”
“What do you mean?”
“Gail, it’s going to be early morning runs, working out in the gym at all hours, kicking the shit out of Claude, and yelling at Olivia until she pukes. Better head for the storm cellar because Hurricane Grey is back in town.”
There’s a pause.
“Do you think that Miss Steele is the one?”
I shrug. “Maybe. But I expect the boss will manage to fuck it up.”
“What do you mean? He seems really into her: I heard him telling Andrea to find out what flight she was taking and upgrade her to first class. In fact, he even offered her the jet – but she turned him down. I like her and he seems smitten. So why would he… mess it up?”
It’s a good question but kinda hard to answer. The boss tries to be a good man. Despite scaring the crap out of Olivia and most of his staff, he takes their well-being seriously. He offers first rate medical and dental and, given the fact that he hardly ever has a day off himself, his holiday allowance is more generous than most companies offer. None of which can be applied to Miss Steele’s case.
“Because he’s never had a girlfriend before – not a real one. Because he doesn’t know how to deal with it when she stands up to him. Because he’s not used to putting someone else’s feelings before his own. When I first met her I thought she was this quiet, gentle little kid – and she is – but in her own way, she won’t take any of his shit.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, who wants a woman who does exactly as they’re told all the time?”
Gail rolls her eyes at me and out of the corner of my eye I see her holding back a smile.
“I just mean that even though part of him likes that she stands up to him, he’s got no… coping mechanism for it except…”
I hesitate to finish the sentence, but I don’t need to.
“Yes, I see what you mean,” says Gail, sounding serious. “I really hope you’re wrong, Jason.”
So do I.
We park at in the underground garage for the Queen Anne Metropolitan Market and I escort Gail to the deli while she runs her eyes over what looks like a very long list.
“Jason, why don’t you go get a coffee: this is going to take a while. Give me half an hour?”
I head off to a nearby coffee shop, grateful for the chance to spend some quality time reading the sports section and checking out the Cougars and the Redhawks.
I’ve been there about 20 minutes when there’s a commotion at the cash register. I push my chair back, my automatic reaction to unexpected sound, my hand reaching towards my shoulder holster. But it’s completely unwarranted and I feel pretty dumb when I see two elderly ladies in the self-service line looking shocked and upset: their tea and muffins scattered across the counter, the change purse of the older one strewn over the floor.
Yeah, I can see the headlines: security officer in granny-gate massacre.
Luckily no-one has noticed my Korth revolver and the waitress is more concerned with clearing up the spillages.
“Can I help you, ladies? Do you usually throw your money around?”
I bend down and start picking up the dimes and quarters.
“Oh, thank you, young man! Thank you! I don’t know what happened! I’m all fingers and thumbs. How clumsy of me.”
“That’s ok, ma’am. Happy to help.”
About five bucks worth of change has gone flying across the café but I think I’ve gotten all of it.
Meanwhile the waitress has replaced the tea and muffins with ill grace and carried it to a vacant table. The old ladies are still chirruping their distress and I really want to shake the sour-faced pit-bull of a waitress.
I pour the heap of coins onto the table.
“There’s your change, ma’am. You look after that.”
“Oh, thank you so much, young man. Please, let us buy you a coffee for your trouble – we interrupted you.”
“That’s ok, ma’am. I’d about finished it anyway. Just happy to help.”
I shrug off their thanks as I check my watch. Time to go collect Gail.
I can see them waving through the coffee shop window as I saunter out, and the one who dropped the change purse blows me a kiss. Jeez, if she’d had her teeth in, she’d have whistled at me. Yep, still got it.
Gail is just finishing at the check-out when I catch up with her. I help her load the bags into the shopping cart and wheel it out to the SUV.
“What are you looking so pleased about?” she says.
I hadn’t realised I was smiling. I wondered why my face felt so weird.
“A woman offered to buy me coffee. I guess she thought I was hot.”
“Well, I can’t argue with that Jason. Should I be jealous?”
“No, baby. She wasn’t my type.”
We drive home listening to songs from ‘Evita’. What is it about women and show tunes? I don’t get it.
I just have time to help Gail get all the shopping bags to the staff kitchen when my Blackberry buzzes.
“Gotta go, baby. The boss wants picking up.”
“Oh, I’d better hustle and get dinner ready then.”
She turns to go. Oh no, baby, not yet. I sweep her into my arms and kiss her hard. Her lip-gloss tastes of strawberries.
“Jason! What has gotten into you this week?” She pulls away breathless.
“I think it’s the other way round, baby!”
She swats me with a tea-towel and I make a strategic retreat.
I pull up in front of Grey House and text the boss to let him know I’m here. I lean on the hood of the SUV and Joe, the lobby security guard comes out to shoot the breeze.
“Hey, Joe. Anything to report?”
“Naw, Mr Taylor.”
“Anyone lose their job today? The boss fire anyone?”
Joe snorts. “Olivia nearly got canned. Leonie told me she’s been crying in the ladies room most of the day. Again.”
I roll my eyes. “What did she do this time?”
“The Seattle Times phoned up to confirm a rumor that’s going around: they’d heard that the boss was taking a date to one of those fancy galas on Saturday.”
“Apparently she said, ‘I can’t confirm whether or not Miss Steele will be accompanying Mr Grey’.”
I shake my head. Olivia really is as dumb as glue. “I can’t believe she fell for that old trick: Andrea must be going crazy.”
Joe grins. “Yep, she’s been fielding calls ever since. Mr Grey was pretty heated up about it. So is it true? The boss has finally got himself a girlfriend? I always thought he was the wrong way up the turnpike.”
“No comment, Joe.”
We see the boss cannoning through the lobby, staff practically diving out of his way. He really takes the phrase ‘looking pissed’ to a whole new dimension. So what’s new? Joe straightens up and opens the car door. Grey scowls at him before muttering a quiet ‘thank you’. He gets in without speaking, tension rolling off him in waves. It’s going to be a long, long evening.
I head out into the evening traffic. In the mirror I can see the boss glancing at this Blackberry every few seconds. It doesn’t take a genius to work out he’s waiting to hear from Miss Steele.
Finally he gets a message and his whole body relaxes. Irritatingly I find that I relax at the same time. I’m going to have to put a note on my calendar, Get yourself a fucking life.
All the way back to Escala he’s tapping messages into his cell phone, but he looks happy enough. Maybe she really will miss him. He’s already had Welch check out the mother and her new husband. I’m almost surprised he hasn’t put surveillance in place but then again, he already tracks every movement via her cell phone. It’s compulsive: he can’t help himself. If she knew half the time he spent worrying about her she’d probably hightail it to the hills. Or be flattered. Nope, I’m voting for the hills. But she doesn’t know. Innocent Miss Steele: she really hasn’t a clue that she’s become the centre of the boss’s world.
He heads straight into his study, saying that he’ll eat after he’s been for a run. Which means after we’ve been for a run. Not that I mind. At least I get to stay fit in this job.
We pound our way around a six mile circuit and it’s the Heathman all over again: running to try and empty his brain; running to escape his own thoughts; running to escape his compulsion to control. He can never run fast enough. I almost feel sorry for him.
Gail serves him up some damn fine sea bass steaks with fries and salad. I know they’re damn fine because we’re having the same meal. But the boss eats alone.
“How is he?”
I frown at Gail. Jeez, can’t we have one meal where we don’t talk about him?
“His normal fucked up self.”
I shrug. It’s true: we both know it.
“Perhaps you should go talk to him.”
“And say what? He’s my boss, not my buddy. And the only person he wants to talk to has flown 2,942 miles to get away from him.”
“I thought she was going to see her mother?”
“Sure, but she also told him she needed a break from him: she told him he was intense.”
“Yeah, it was pretty fucking funny. But you know what: he offered to go to Georgia with her. She told him she didn’t think that was a good idea.”
“Oh, Jason! Sometimes you men are so literal!”
What? She’s lumping me in with him? I don’t fucking think so!
“I’m sure she’ll miss him… if he gives her a chance to. Poor Mr Grey.”
“Poor, he ain’t.”
“You know what I mean, Jason.”
My Blackberry buzzes.
“The boss is going to the gym: I’ll just go and do a quick sweep. Back in a minute, baby.”
I’m not anticipating any trouble; only half of the 245 units at Escala are occupied, and many of those seem to have discovered the gym. And even fewer at 11pm.
Yep, the place is deserted, which is how the boss likes it. I sometimes wonder that he doesn’t buy the whole building just to keep it for himself. He really isn’t a people person.
“Thank you, Taylor. I won’t need you again tonight, but I’ll be running at 5.30am tomorrow.”
Fuck. Yep, Portland all over again.
I head back up and persuade Gail that clearing up isn’t nearly as interesting as what I have in mind. She’s a woman of weak will: I fucking love that about her.
I fall asleep curled up in her arms. But not for long enough. At some point in the night, I’m vaguely aware that the boss is playing his piano.
As I crawl out of bed at 5am, I’m seriously thinking of contacting Miss Steele and begging her to come back early. Maybe if I paid her…
One good thing about running so early, it breaks the routine. I get a bit nervous if the boss runs at the same time for several days in succession. It makes him an easy target. We vary the route but even so… and with Olivia’s foot swallowing trick, the paparazzi will be out in force. Probably more on Saturday than right now. Although I don’t see any of those lazy fuckers getting up at 5am.
He seems in a much better mood on the way to the office so I can only assume Miss Steele has deigned to send him an email, although he looks preoccupied, not his usual bastard self.
The day drags. The only entertainment is watching Olivia try to avoid Andrea’s icy stare and get back in her good graces: not this side of Christmas, at any rate. I wouldn’t want to mess with Andrea: I reckon she could kneecap a guy from a thousand yards just by throwing him a harsh look. Which is how come she’s managed to keep a job as Grey’s PA for so long. The cool blonde thing isn’t an act with her: you could freeze ice cubes on her ass.
The boss insists on another long run at lunchtime. It makes me laugh my ass off in a strong-silent-type sort of way, when I see half the female staff hanging around in the lobby just to see the boss returning all sweaty. Dream on, ladies; it ain’t never gonna happen. Jeez, there’s even one there my mother’s age! Don’t these women have any shame lusting after a guy of 27? Nope. None. Zilch. Nada. Zip. What a dumb fucking question.
Shortly after lunch, Ros comes over to my office and knocks on the door.
“You got a moment, Jason?”
“Sure, Ros. What do you need?”
She comes in and closes the door. Hmm.
“What’s up with Christian? He’s been rampaging through the building for the last half an hour. I’m surprised the place isn’t on lock down. Barney has threatened to quit and nothing usually bothers him. Olivia is crying, although that’s nothing new, and Joyce in PR has had to order in Krispy Kremes and lemon meringue pie for the whole floor to avoid a mass walk out. I need to know what’s going on, Jason. I wouldn’t ask otherwise. I don’t think it’s anything to do with business, but if it is…”
“Ros, you know I can’t talk to you about the boss.”
“Don’t give me that fucking bullshit, Jason. I’ve known him for seven years and I’ve never seen him like this. I need to know what the problem is.”
She’s right: she needs to know but I really don’t want to be the snitch. I take a deep breath.
“It’s about a woman.”
She blinks. “A woman?”
Jeez, it’s a fucking echo!
“What sort of woman?”
Oh for fucks sake! The kind with tits and an ass! What do you mean, what sort of woman?!
I stare at her impassively waiting for the penny to drop. I wait. And wait. And… then I give up.
“A girlfriend, Ros.”
Her bewildered expression makes me want to laugh out loud, but then a slow smile wraps itself around her teeth.
“So the rumors are true. Christian has a girlfriend! What’s she like? Ok, don’t answer that: none of my business. But that’s great – really great.” She pauses mid way through her attack of adulation. “Well, why’s he in such a bad mood then? Must be a nice change for him to get some.”
If only you knew how fucking funny that is.
“She had to go away.”
“Oh. Well, that explains it. First love and all that. Ok, well nothing for me to worry about. At least, I don’t think so.”
She frowns then looks up. “This girlfriend… she didn’t go to Savannah by any chance, did she?”
Now how the hell do you know that?
Ros smirks. “Christian happened to mention there was a plot of land down there that he was interested in looking at. I wondered why he’d suddenly come up with Georgia when we’ve put a thousand man hours into casing Detroit. Well, well, Christian in love. This should be interesting.”
Yeah, yeah, and the Chinese have a curse: May you live in interesting times.
She leaves, smiling to herself but my mouth doesn’t seem to want to join in. I have a bad feeling about this.