The phone rings in the fourth innings of a Mariners game. I consider leaving it but old habits die hard.
“Taylor. Fred Welch here. You got a minute?”
“Sure, sir, whatever you need.”
“I might have something for you.”
I sit up straighter. I could really use a new job. Sophie’s dental and health insurance has drained my bank balance to almost nil. Usually my employer covers these things, but the last guy up and died on me – natural causes, of course – so I’m out of work until something comes in. I’d rather take an interesting job, but right now, I’ll consider pretty much anything. So when my old CO told me he’d set up a private security business, you can bet I was interested.
“What’s the job?”
“A new client. A self-made man who’s just made his first billion. There have been some non-specific threats against him recently – to do with redundancies at a factory he bought. Nothing serious, but now he’s in the super-rich league, he’ll need 24/7. You interested?”
“Sure. What’s the catch?”
Welch laughs. “You don’t change, Taylor.”
“No, sir. Like Mount Rushmore.”
“And just as talkative. Well, I don’t know that there is a catch. I’m still doing some deep background checks on him and apart from some drinking and fighting when he was a juvenile, and the fact that he dropped out of Harvard – no reason given, I’m coming up empty. He’s young – 23 years old. That a problem?”
Shit! A baby-sitting job?
“It’s not what you think, Taylor,” says Welch, guessing my thoughts. “Just meet the man – make up your own mind.”
Fair enough. I can do that.
“Ok, give me the time and location.”
“1400 hours at his office tomorrow. And you’ll need to sign an NDA before you speak to him.”
I shrug. The type of people I work for spit out Non-Disclosure Agreements like so many apple seeds.
“Wait till you hear what he’s prepared to pay – plus dental and health for you and your family.”
Welch gives me a figure and I whistle. It’s 50% more than my best ever job for a Saudi prince. But it makes me nervous, too. Someone who pays that much must have something to hide.
Welch gives me a downtown address and hangs up. I go back to the Mariners game. They’ve just lost. Again.
So, on a dull Tuesday afternoon I’m booted and suited and on my way to meet this Grey kid. I googled him last night and found a lot of fluff stories but not a single interview. All the usual stuff: so rich, so young; a little bit about his family – his mom’s a paediatrician and his dad’s a hotshot lawyer – figures; he’s got a sister who’s still at school and an older brother who has a successful construction business. Sure he does – these rich types keep the money in the family. The only other fact I can dig up is that the kid was adopted when he was four. Explains the lack of family likeness in the photos I found.
The 20 storey office block is new and I admit I’m impressed to see that he’s got the whole building. A smart looking blonde receptionist gives me a security tag and sends me up to the top floor. From what I can see of the security guards and CCTV in the foyer, it’s a pretty tight ship.
Grey’s assistant is waiting for me when the elevator doors open. Another blonde. Hmm. The kid likes his blondes.
“This way, Mr Taylor. May I get you refreshments? Tea, coffee, water?”
“No, thank you.”
She shows me into a large office and I get my first look at the kid.
He’s taller than I expected, taller than me, and I can tell by looking at him, that he’s built of hard muscle. He obviously works out. His eyes are cool and assessing me as thoroughly as I’m assessing him. When he shakes hands I can feel callouses. I remember reading that he was on the rowing squad at his fancy East coast college.
He points me to seat. He may be young but I was wrong to call him a kid: there’s something about his eyes that’s old – reminds me of men I served with in Iraq, men who’d seen too much. I wait for him to speak.
“Welch tells me I need a close personal protection unit and that you have experience in that area.”
“Yes, sir.” He hasn’t asked me a question yet.
“My schedule is busy and it can change very quickly. I need someone who can be flexible. I understand you’re separated from your wife?”
“Divorced, yes, sir.”
“So 24/7 wouldn’t be a problem?”
“Good. There’ll be a month’s trial.”
He pauses, measuring my response. I keep my face parked in neutral.
“I have live-in accommodation at my place at Escala. If that’s to your satisfaction, when can you start?”
“Good. Andrea will give you the details.”
He presses a button on his desk and the blonde assistant escorts me out.
That must be the quickest, goddam ever job interview I’ve ever had. And now I’m really curious to see his place.
I get back to my motel room and pack my bag. I won’t be sorry to say goodbye to this dump. I’ve been living on the cheap to save money for Sophie. And her mother who has champagne tastes on beer money. But she’s a good mother and I loved the bitch once, so I don’t complain.
I drive over to Escala which is another smart, new building. Grey has made his money very recently and seems pretty keen on spending it, too. I punch in the entry code for the underground garage and park in the bay number I was given. I can’t take my eyes off the R8 I park next to. I really hope Mr Grey is going to need me to drive that some time. I also cast my eyes over the Audi SUV that’s in the next bay. Looks like it’s up to light armored level and has bulletproof windows. So far, so good.
The elevator code takes me to the Penthouse. There’s another blonde waiting at the entrance. What is it with Mr Grey and blondes? This one is older than the others, maybe five or six years older than me. Great legs and a warm, friendly smile.
“Mr Taylor? Welcome. I’m Gail Jones, Mr Grey’s housekeeper. Let me show you to your room.”
Housekeeper, huh? I hope Grey isn’t fucking the staff – it just makes things too complicated.
The main room is huge. Christ! You could play ball in here! There’s what looks like expensive art on the walls and a grand piano sitting in one corner. I wonder if he plays it or if it’s just for show. Gail walks me past the CCTV room. I’ll have to look at that thoroughly later.
I follow her along a corridor, appreciating the way her tasty ass fills out her smart, pencil skirt. Shit! Mind on the job, Taylor. You’re here to work and earn a fucking fortune!
My room is large, light and airy, tricked out like a high class hotel, which I guess is what this whole apartment is. There’s a state of the art flat screen and sound system. The best of everything for Mr Grey – and his staff.
“I cook for us all,” says Gail, breaking into my thoughts. “We eat our meals in our private dining room and Mr Grey eats separately, of course. I’ll be serving supper in an hour if you’re hungry?”
“That would be great, thank you.”
She smiles. It’s such a sweet, kind smile that I can’t help but smile back.
“I’m sure you’d like to look around the apartment,” she says. “If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me.”
“Thanks. Where is Mr Grey?”
“He’s in the gymnasium which is in the basement. He usually has a session with his personal trainer in the evenings.”
I nod and watch as she leaves. I throw my bag on the bed and wander off to have a look round. As well as the staff quarters, which are bigger than most ordinary apartments, there are three guest bedrooms, Grey’s home office, an impressive library with a competition-size pool table and a TV room that looks like it’s hardly used. One of the doors is locked – I’ll have to ask Gail about that later. Grey’s bedroom is on the far side of the main room. I check and see that he’s got a safe behind the painting in his bedroom. It’s a picture of the sea, and very restful to look at. But again, the kind of picture a much older man would have.
This Grey guy is beginning to interest me.
I check out the CCTV room that will be my office. It’s everything I could want and more. If I can work for this guy – which remains to be seen – technically, the job will be a breeze.
I spend a quarter of an hour checking out the other floors of the apartment block, as well as the fire escape and other access points. There’s even a helipad on the room but it’s all pretty secure.
Eventually I make my way back to the kitchen. The smells coming out of there are mouth-watering. It’ll make a change from pizza and take-out.
“Hello, Mr Taylor,” says Gail, when she sees me. “Everything to your satisfaction?”
“Just Taylor, please. One question: there’s a locked room I haven’t been able to access. Do you have a key to that? I’d like to check it out.”
She raises her eyebrows and tries not to smile. She looks like she’s got some private joke – and she’s not going to share.
“That’s Mr Grey’s playroom. Here’s the key.”
I go back to the second floor of Grey’s apartment and when I open the door, my jaw hits the fucking floor.
So that’s it. This Grey is one twisted son-of-a-bitch! No wonder he’s prepared to pay over the odds. I’m going to have to get one thing straight with him: if there’s anything illegal or underage going on, I’m out of here. Obviously Gail knows and it doesn’t seem to bother her. Shit! Maybe she and Grey…
I try to drive the thought out of my head. I can’t imagine the prim and proper Ms Jones in here although now I’ve thought about it, that would be kinda hot. No. I have to talk to Grey himself about this.
I return the key to Gail without comment.
“It’s not what it looks like,” she says softly. “Well, I suppose it is… Mr Grey has a regular weekend guest, a Miss Saunders. I have the weekends off mostly, but I have met her on one occasion. She seems a pleasant young woman.”
Discreet, Gail, very discreet. She’s told me everything I need to know without revealing too much. Even so, I’ve got to have this out with Grey. At least I know now that he’s not a homo. It wouldn’t bother me if he was, but I need to know if I’m going to work for the guy. I had a client once who was into pothead rent boys and lowlife joints. No way I can do close protection for someone like that, someone who likes the danger.
I go back and sit in the CCTV room and think about what I want to say to him. I see on the monitors when he’s on his way up in the lift so I’m ready when he walks into the foyer.
He’s ringing with sweat after what must have been a punishing workout.
“Debrief in 10 minutes,” he says.
He pulls off his T-shirt as he strides towards his room. I can’t help noticing a series of small, white scars on his chest. There’s no doubt in my mind what they are. I served with a guy who used to stub out cigarettes on his arm to show what a double-hard bastard he was. Those marks on Grey’s chest are burn marks. But they’re old. And I can’t help thinking some fucking monster stubbed out their smokes on him when he was a kid. I doubt it was the good doctor and her hotshot lawyer husband, so it must have been before he was adopted.
It gives me another piece of the puzzle. I shake my head. I’m finding Grey too interesting. I just need to do my job.
I wait a few minutes and then head to his office to wait. I stand with my hands behind my back. When he enters he’s casually dressed in jeans and a loose, white shirt and his hair is wet from the shower. His feet are bare and this says I-don’t-give-a-fuck-what-you-think-of-me.
He points to a chair and I sit while he positions himself behind his desk.
“So you’ve had a look around the place?”
“Yes, sir. No access points of concern. I might need to adjust a couple of the CCTV cameras for better coverage and I’d like one more camera in the garage.”
“Ok. Anything else?”
He raises an eyebrow. The bastard knows what I’m going to ask him. He’s waiting for it.
“Your playroom, sir. I have to know that it’s legal and consensual.”
I can’t take him at his word – I think I’d rather see for myself. Well, not all of it, please god.
He pauses again.
“Any more questions?”
“I’ll need a list of any prohibited visitors, as well as those who are permitted access.”
“You’ll find those in a file on your desk,” he says, cool as ever.
“Thank you, sir. That’s all.”
“Good. If you wish to use the training room in the basement, the entry code is 1780. I won’t need you again tonight, Taylor.”
That was unexpected. Normally the people I work for don’t like me using their facilities – certainly not at the same time as them. But I don’t get that feeling from Grey. Strange.
As I walk back to the kitchen, Gail has plated up a meal for him. It sure smells good.
“Are you ready to eat, too, Taylor?” she says pleasantly.
“Yes, thank you.”
I follow her into the dining room… our dining room. Chicken chasseur with green beans and potatoes. Suddenly I’m mouth-wateringly hungry.
“How long have you worked for Mr Grey, Ms Jones?”
“Please, call me Gail. Just a few months now. It’s been… interesting.”
“Anything I need to know… from a security point of view?”
“He doesn’t go out of his way to make himself liked,” says Gail carefully. “But I believe he’s a good man. A troubled man, I think, but a good one, nonetheless. Mr Grey works very hard – a punishing schedule, I’d say.”
This interests me.
“What’s a typical schedule?”
“He goes for a run about six in the morning – sometimes earlier – unless he has a business breakfast. He’ll leave for the office about 7.30am and I usually don’t see him again until 8 or 9 in the evening. He works out with Claude Bastille, his personal trainer every week night, and then works in his study till late. I don’t see him most weekends, as you can imagine.”
No, I imagine not.
“Does he go out much?”
“His parents and sister at Bellvue; his brother, Elliott, lives in the city.”
“Fundraisers, occasionally, business dinners.”
Jeez. Is this guy 23 or 53?
“Well… there’s Mrs Lincoln. A friend of his mother’s, I believe.”
“No guy friends?”
“Not that I’ve seen. Mr Grey is… something of a loner, I’d say. Now, can I offer you dessert? We have vanilla ice cream or cheese and biscuits.”
Gail has given me a lot to think about. It’s obvious she likes Grey, in a maternal sort of way. But she’s no fool either and I can’t help thinking that someone like her, a decent person, wouldn’t work for Grey if he was a really sick fucker. But I’ll just have to make up my own mind on that; after all, Gail isn’t around at the weekends. And I’ll be very interested to meet a certain Miss Saunders.
About midnight I decide to call it a day. Grey is still working, just like Gail said. When I knock and enter his office he’s poring over spreadsheets. Just looking at all those tiny figures gives me a headache. But then again I suppose that’s why I’m breaking my ass as close protection to a sick fucker who has whips and handcuffs in his playroom, and the he’s the bastard who’s hiring me.
“Will that be all, sir?”
I’m polite as fuck.
“Yes, thank you, Taylor,” he says quietly.
“I understand you like to go for a run in the mornings, sir?”
He frowns and looks up at me when he realises what I’m saying: that I intend to go with him. If he refuses, I’m out of here. I can only work with people who let me do my job.
“Of course. Six am, Taylor.”
I figure this guy must be one of those people who doesn’t need much sleep as it’s already pretty late. Luckily I can survive on five or six hours so it doesn’t really bother me. I was in the Marines long enough not to bother about broken sleep and long hours.
My bed smells wonderful and the sheets are clean and crisp. Thank you, Gail. There are certainly fringe benefits to working here. Gratefully, I slide under the covers and fall asleep immediately.
At about four in the morning I’m woken suddenly. What the fuck was that?
I’m on my feet in seconds, gun in hand, and sprinting across the main room. There must be an intruder. Another scream – louder – someone in pain. The scream comes from Grey’s bedroom.
I burst through the door, gripping my gun with both hands and scan the dark room quickly. There’s no-one there – just Grey, covered in sweat, and very pale. My entrance has woken him up. He looks around him, confused, his eyes wide with fear and I can see that his heart rate is through the ceiling. Then his eyes fix on me and I see awareness flood back. He shakes his head as if to clear it.
“Everything ok, sir?”
“Yes, thank you, Taylor. Sometimes I have nightmares.”
He doesn’t say anything else but I can see he’s shaken. I walk back to my room slowly, my thoughts heavy. I’ve heard those sorts of screams before, from men who’ve seen too much. I think of the scars I’ve seen and realise the ones I can’t see are even deeper.
As I sink back into bed, I hear the piano playing softly in the main room. The music is complex and superbly played, but overwhelmingly sad in tone. Mr Grey is a man of many talents – and many secrets.