It’s been a hell of a month for me, with the death of my closest girlfriend, my hospitalization, and my grandson being born all in a matter of two weeks. I won’t be lying if I tell you all that I am completely exhausted right now–still working to get the original story published and get the final chapters of this book posted has not been an easy task. For your patience, I am posting the next chapter.
There are two more chapters after this one.
I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.
Chapter 78—Mixed Signals
“Mr. David, you testified that you come from ‘humble beginnings’ and that your father saved for years for you to go to college, is that correct?” Batiste begins his cross-examination.
“Do you care to explain what this is?” Batiste drops some papers on the witness stand in front of David. He picks them up and examines them briefly. An unknown emotion shows on his face for a fleeting moment.
“College transcripts,” he says.
“Whose?” Batiste presses.
“From?” he keeps going. David doesn’t want to say.
“The first college I attended,” he responds.
“University, you mean. On a scholarship?” David seems uncomfortable. “Remember, you’re under oath.”
“No… some of the money that my parents saved.”
“Oh, okay. So why did you come to U-Dub?”
“Their computer science program was better,” he answers.
“I see… with the money that you parents saved… from the humble beginnings.”
“Yes,” David hisses.
“Hmm. That’s interesting, because I show here that your parents own a very lucrative sporting goods chain and the main office is housed in your hometown. I’m pretty sure that ‘saving up’ for your college fund couldn’t have been that difficult.” Batiste says.
“I said we came from humble beginnings. I didn’t say we were still there. My parents made something of themselves, just like me. I mean, look at me.”
“Yes, look at you,” Batiste says, and the courtroom falls silent. “I understand making something of yourself, Mr. David, but your parents have owned this very successful chain of stores for more than 20 years. That’s most of your life, Mr. David. Not only would I say that you did not come from humble beginnings, but you were nearly born with a silver spoon in your mouth.”
“Objection, Your Honor,” Lady Smug protests.
“Withdrawn,” Batiste says and continues with his cross-examination. “Let me rephrase what I was trying to say. Mr. David, while you are saying that you came from humble beginnings, the truth is that even though you were born in a small town, you were raised in a very large home in an affluent and exclusive area of the county for most of your life. Isn’t that correct?”
“It was still a small town,” David answers.
“A small suburb where only the well-off members of society resided, correct?”
“I didn’t lie,” he protests. “I said that I came from a small town from humble beginnings and that my father saved up for me to go to college.”
“I never said you lied, Mr. David. However, you have left out considerably important information in your recollection and description of events, like what you failed to mention was that you lived a privileged life as a teenager and as a college student where you stayed in private dorms and your father paid for most of your expenses out of a several-thousand-dollar college fund and his sizable income from the family’s sporting goods chain.”
“Objection, Your Honor. Relevance,” Lady Smug says.
“You Honor, Ms. Ramsey and Mr. David have painted the picture for the jury that he was a poor boy from a small town. I’m just giving the jury the actual picture that he was a privileged child that lived a more-charmed life than he has portrayed.”
“Overruled,” Her Honor says. “You presented your picture of the situation, Ms. Ramsey. The prosecution has a right to present his facts as well.”
“Thank you, Your Honor.” Batiste turns back to David. “Mr. David, what was the first vehicle that you owned…?”
The prosecution goes about the business of ripping apart David’s implication that he was a poor boy from a small town. It turns out that he went to private schools, drove fancy cars, and had archery lessons… archery. Even I didn’t know how rich he really was and we lived together! I notice that everyone is tiptoeing around the fact that he’s from Cedar Rapids, or from Iowa altogether. I wonder why that seems to be such a big secret.
“Let’s talk about those formidable college years,” Batiste continues. “You said that you didn’t have a girlfriend at the time before Mrs. Grey, correct?” He winces at the mention of my married name.
“That’s what I said,” he nearly hisses.
“Okay. Does the name Camilla Johannson ring a bell?”
Fuck! I didn’t know they could bring that up in this case! David clearly blanches and then tries to quickly recover. I don’t know if the jury caught it, but his suave exterior has clearly been broken. He’s twitching like a meth addict on that stand.
“I know of her,” he says.
“You know of her?” Batiste asks. “Isn’t it true that you were dating her before you went to the University of Washington?”
“Objection…” I knew that was coming. If he’s going where I think he’s going, he can’t take it there, although I wish he could. Camilla Johannson is the reason he was in exile at U-Dub in the first place. That’s the girl he raped and beat and was sent away from Iowa as part of the payoff.
“He said he didn’t have a girlfriend,” Batiste says with a shrug. David looks like he’s going to shit himself.
“Overruled. Mr. David can respond as to the nature of the relationship with the girl at the time.” He is frantically searching for a suitable answer to the question and he can’t hide it.
“We had dated before I went to Washington, but we had a falling-out before I left and we were not dating by the time I got to U-Dub.” Oh, how convenient! By all means, don’t tell them that you raped and beat the girl damn near to death—but it appears that the prosecution is using this just as much as he can without violating the rules.
“I see. She was actually the reason you went to the University of Washington. Is that correct?” He still hasn’t said it, but he’s letting David know that he knows the whole story and he’s hoping that Edward will step over into the hole.
“I left my hometown to come to Washington to study computer science. Camilla and I were history before I even left.” He’s not going to admit it. He must have been coached on this part.
“So you actually did have a girlfriend before Mrs. Grey… she wasn’t your first experience with women, shall we say.”
“I never said that she was,” David says with a frown. No, you just implied it, Asshole. Small town boy meets Vegas floozy who turns him out and leaves him high and dry.
“No, of course you didn’t. You’re not saying a lot.” Yikes, gut shot. “Speaking of not saying a lot, the dinner at Canlis—you left out that the conversation was quite heated and Mrs. Grey repeatedly told you that not only did she not want to meet with you, but that you two were not getting back together.”
“I didn’t leave it out,” David says.
“Oh? I have Mrs. Grey’s testimony here from earlier in the week. Would you like for me to read it?”
“No,” David hisses. “I just don’t recall the conversation going that way.”
“Really? That’s very interesting. You recall where you went, what you drank, her leaving with Mr. Grey, his ‘goon’ sitting outside of her apartment and returning the next day, being thrown out of her apartment, being ‘attacked’ in the Marketplace, but you don’t remember the content or the tone of this very crucial conversation?” Batiste adds incredulously. The courtroom is silent for a while.
“I do remember the content of our conversation. We were talking things out.”
“That’s not what Mrs. Grey said.”
“Her husband was sitting here. What do you expect her to say?” David snaps. Batiste nods.
“So, just so that I’m clear, it is your testimony that Mrs. Grey went to Canlis with you that night with every intention of getting back together with you even though she had repeatedly told you over the course of four years that it wasn’t going to happen, and her sole purpose of leaving was that Mr. Grey showed up with a bottle of wine?” The courtroom is silent again. I actually giggle at how ridiculous that sounds. I can see myself in my mind’s eye crawling across the floor following Christian out of the restaurant, and he has a bottle of wine tied to the end of a fishing pole. I’m almost certain that members of the jury see something similar. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
“That’s not what I said. Don’t put words in my mouth.”
“My apologies, Mr. David. You’re leaving so much out that I assume that you expect us to fill in the blanks. I’m just trying to get clarification.” He thumbs through his notes. “You left out that you had a girlfriend before you came to the University of Washington, leading the court to believe that Mrs. Grey was your first experience with a woman. You omitted that you came from a lucrative childhood, driving fancy cars before you even turned 18, focusing only on the fact that you lived in a small community and making it appear that Mrs. Grey was the big town girl from Vegas who came and corrupted you when it was actually the other way around. Mrs. Grey has testified and it has been verified that she was living in a homeless shelter before she went to U-Dub, and she in fact was going to college on a scholarship. So, again, please forgive me, Mr. David, if it appears that I am putting words in your mouth. That is the very last thing I would want to do as I can assure you that the court would much rather hear the full story come from your mouth.”
“Objection!” Lady Smug is out of her seat again. “Is he going to tell the story or question the witness?”
“I’m only reiterating what the witness has already said and attempting to get clarification on his testimony, just like you did when you cross-examined Mrs. Grey. Would you like for me to ask him all of those questions again… just like you did when you cross-examined Mrs. Grey?” Wow, these people are cut-throat! I’m getting a kick out of watching Lady Smug squirm and seeing David’s face turn fifty shades of green.
“It’s fine to get clarification of the answer, but be careful in your narration, Mr. Batiste,” Her Honor cautions. Batiste nods and after several moments, he’s back on David.
“I’d like to go back to the ‘attack’ in the Marketplace. We have already had testimony from Mr. Forsythe that you attempted to restrain Mrs. Grey when she tried to leave after you insulted her. Do you care to explain that?”
“What is there to explain? That faggot is her best friend—of course he’s going to say that!” I hear a gasp in the courtroom and it’s not Al. The look on his face and the fact that he’s looking over at the jury lets me know that he may have lost one of them with that statement. Batiste doesn’t let this opportunity pass him by.
“I’m sorry Mr. David. You’re implying that Mr. Forsythe may not have been completely truthful when he indicated that you unnecessarily restrained Mrs. Grey. Your reasoning is a bit unclear. Are you saying that he’s lying because he’s her best friend or because he’s gay?” Good one, Batiste.
“I don’t know why Mr. Forsythe is lying. All I’m saying is that I didn’t try to restrain Rosie.”
“So again, you contend that you were just minding your own business and she just walked up to you in the Marketplace and assaulted you not hours after she threw you out of her apartment, saying that she never wanted to see you again?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying, and Rosie never told me that she never wanted to see me again!” Yes, I did, you asshole!
“Are you sure about that, Mr. David?” Batiste asks.
“I’m positive! She was upset with me, but that always blows over. She never said she didn’t want to see me again.” Batiste goes over to the prosecution table.
“Your Honor, I would like to now refer to States Exhibit V.” Her Honor nods. “Mr. David, is your phone number 555-8782?” David nods.
“Yes, it is.”
“Can you please read what this is?” He hands Edward a piece of paper.
“This looks like the restraining order served on me telling me to stay away from Rosie.”
“And can you turn to page six please?” Edward turns to page six and blanches again. “Can you please tell the court what you’re looking at?”
“I think… it’s text messages,” he says slowly.
“Can you read the date of the texts, Mr. David?” David sighs.
“June 30, 2012.”
“And is that your phone number there?” Batiste asks.
“Can you please read the pink highlighted line labeled ‘line seven?’” David sighs again.
“’You’re a real fucking bitch, Anastasia. You’re going to pay for this shit.’” Batiste nods.
“And what phone number did that come from?”
“Mine,” David says and we can barely hear him.
“I’m sorry, we didn’t catch that, Mr. David. What number did that come from?”
“Mine!” he nearly yells.
“Thank you, Mr. David, and what does line eight read?” David reluctantly looks down at the transcript. Yeah, you forgot about the texts, didn’t you, asshole?
“’ And thank you so much for that. I’ll make sure that I let the judge see this when I file for my restraining order on Monday. I never ever want to see your fucking face in my life ever again. You are dead to me.’”
“And can you read the number that the message came from?” David reluctantly reads my old phone number to the court. “Your Honor, please let the record show that Mr. David has read Mrs. Grey’s phone number on June 30, 2012.”
“Duly noted,” she says. Batiste turns his attention back to David. “Mr. David, do you still contend that Mrs. Grey never told you that she never wanted to see you again?”
“I had forgotten about that text,” he says.
“Surely you hadn’t forgotten about it when you accosted her in the Marketplace. According to the timing, it was only about three hours after the text exchange.”
“I was only trying to talk to her,” David defends.
“By stalking her in the Marketplace, insulting her and her best friend in public, and then restraining her when she tried to leave—after you told her that she was going to ‘pay’ for whatever supposed malfeasance she had committed against you?”
Batiste systematically begins destroying David’s “poor little victim me” defense, all the way into meeting Harris in the coffee shop and going about the business of changing his identity. The whole thing finally sounds as ridiculous as it really is and if it was truly as David says it was—which I highly doubt—then he wasn’t under any kind of duress or diminished capacity. He was just duped.
This story is completely different from the one that he described to his attorney earlier. Harris all but put a gun to his head and mine in the first version. In this version, he’s just confused and angry, which is exactly what he was on that island. He didn’t know what to call me, what to say to me, how to handle me, or what to do next. By the time he and Harris had gotten into that fist fight, he was all out of ideas. That’s why he handed me my phone. No one in their right mind would have done that, which lends to his insanity defense, but he wasn’t insane. He was desperate.
For once, I finally see my saving grace. Everything he’s saying sounds like a jumbled garble of mess and confusion. He can’t get his lies straight and he can’t sustain this defense he’s trying to present. His “expert” witness was bullshit and his own testimony is falling apart. His attorney was so ready to tear into me that she didn’t prepare for the rest of the trial. He’s going to fry.
Unless this is a jury of complete and utter idiots, David has lost this trial with flying colors. By the time he is called to task for handcuffing me naked to the bed, he has absolutely no justification for his actions—not that there is one.
Not once did he try to contact the police.
When he saw that I was falling ill, he still failed to try to get medical help for me.
Harris went to the mainland to use my cards, gone for God only knows how long, and David never released me or even tried to escape with me.
After he and Harris fought, he still kept me shackled to the bed.
While Harris was outside being shot down by the police, David never voluntarily released me.
Nothing he did—not one thing—indicated diminished capacity or duress, just a psycho who was trying to get a woman to succumb to Stockholm’s syndrome and love him again.
“I don’t want to scare you, but this doesn’t look good, Chris,” James says after his initial review of our systems and network. This is definitely not what I want to hear. My eyes are spinning and my head feels like lead after James tries to tell me in laymen’s terms what’s going on with my network. Long story short, someone has been able to bypass the firewalls in the front and back of our main network as well as many—many—of our subnets. What this means is that whoever this is knows exactly what they are doing and are easily able to gain a foothold onto the network.
Barney couldn’t see it as quickly because he’s too close to the situation. Barney was micro-searching before looking at the big picture, which is the exact opposite of what James did. It’s like someone breaking into your house, and you go around the house searching every door, window, trap door, patio door, balcony door, secret passageway, and sliding wall to see how the intruder got in. That’s Barney. Now you call the police and they look for obvious signs of forced entry and visible damage that is normally caused by someone breaking into your house. That’s James. I’m going to need both of them to continue because I need James to tell me where they are going and where they’ve been, then I need Barney to lock the doors behind them. That may be an exercise in futility, but I don’t know yet.
“What are they trying to do?” I ask him, thrusting my fingers into my hair.
“I still can’t tell for sure, but I can tell you this. They used a pretty elementary technique to log into your system as a host—elementary only because the technique is easy, but you have to be well familiar with the system you’re trying to crack. You are definitely under friendly fire, or once friendly fire.” So that lets me know that this is not some strangers trying to infiltrate Grey Enterprises. This is someone who is or used to be on the inside. Of course, my most recently fired lawyers come to mind. “They log into your system with a login that’s different every time, so you can’t just find them immediately because they don’t leave the same footprint as the last time.”
“So how can you single them out as opposed to any other GEH employee if their footprint is different all the time?” I ask.
“By searching for anomalies,” he answers. “I have a sophisticated program that runs on a near infinite loop that is able to identify unfamiliar users as well as users that do thing outside of the normal parameters. This means that I can easily locate the user, but unfortunately they are usually in and out before I can pinpoint them and they never use the same signature twice. Whoever they are, they’re anticipating something like this and they never stay put.”
“Shit!” I hiss. “James, what are they trying to do?”
“I don’t know, Chris, but their behavior indicates that they are up to no good. Trade secrets, financial information, control of the system—you name it, expect it.”
“What do I do now?”
“There’s nothing that you can do right now until we find out who this joker is and where they’re operating from,” he tells me, much to my chagrin. “If you alert him to your actions right now, he’s likely to close up shop and sit and lie in wait until you get comfortable again. We have to find out how the joker got in and in the process, we’ll most likely find what he’s after, but this can be a long process, Chris.”
“Long? How long?”
“Weeks… maybe months.”
“Months?” I say, horrified. “He could have stripped my whole company by then!”
“No, he can’t. We can stop him before he does too much damage in that time.” I sigh. I don’t like the sound of this.
“James, I’m putting my life’s work in your hands. I have never put this much of my life in anyone’s hands.” He looks me square in the eyes.
“You’re a good man, Chris, but more than that, the man that I one day hope to marry is best friends with your wife. If I do anything that could possibly hurt her, he will drop me like yesterday’s garbage and I can’t take that chance. I will do everything in my power to make sure that whoever this is doesn’t get far, but you have to trust me. Even when it seems like I’m asking you to do something crazy, you have to trust me. Can you do that?”
“Do I have a choice?” I feel hopeless and exposed, vulnerable in the worst way.
“Yes, you do,” he says firmly. “You can tell me to pack up my shit and get the hell out of your building.” He’s not being facetious as he stands there waiting for my answer.
“I trust you, James. I do, it’s just that…” I’m at a bit of a loss for words. “This is everything I’ve built. I have a new wife. We’re about to have twins. We’re going to be buying—or building—a house. Not that there ever is a good time for something like this, but this is the absolute worst! My pregnant wife is stressing over this trial and the safety of our babies. I just can’t…” I trail off again. Should I tell Butterfly about this? I hate keeping things from her, but the fact that this could be very serious and I have absolutely nothing to give her by means of an answer means that this is going to eat at her and eat at her, and that can’t be good for the babies… especially right now.
“Do you want my opinion?” He says to me. I look over at him as I nearly forgot that he was in the room. “Don’t tell her yet. You don’t have anything concrete and she’s only going to worry. Let’s get Edward David locked away before we hand her another crisis. Give me time to give you something—and a possible solution—before you lay this on her.” I shake my head.
“How could you possibly know what I was thinking?” I ask. He shrugs.
“I have an analytical mind. I put myself in your shoes and think about if this were me and Allie. They are the same person, and she would just worry. Don’t tell her yet. Soon… but not yet.”
He scares me.
“Give me something soon, please, not just for my wife, but for me too.” I beseech him.
“We’ll figure it out, Chris. Don’t worry.”
I spend more time that usual in the office combing through reports for any anomalies and checking in or James and Barney without being a total nuisance. It’s well into the evening when Allen and James come into my office and tell me that they are going home. I look at my watch—7:30. Damn, I didn’t call Butterfly. It’s too late now. I might as well just get home. I text Jason that I’m ready to go and grab my suit coat before leaving my office.
The ride is quiet as I check my emails on my blackberry and the real estate agent is coming up with some more suitable choices for us since our chat. We know what we want, and simply being on Mercer Island is not it. We have specific requirements and if we can’t get them, we’ll stop looking and build them. I think she got the picture after our talk. If you ask me, she has some properties on Mercer that she’s been trying to move and she just decided to throw them in there with hopes that we might see them and want one. When I reiterated my wishes to her and assured her that I would find another agent if she couldn’t find what we wanted, she snapped right in line and began sending information on properties that were more to my liking. I was just about to forward one very large property to Butterfly when my phone buzzes with a text.
**Hey, where are you?**
Shit. I knew I should have called. I was sure that I’d be home before she started wondering, but this damn cyber attack has me so preoccupied that I don’t know which way is up sometimes.
**I’ll be in your arms in less than 10 minutes, Baby.**
Pour on the goo, Grey. You’re late and you didn’t call your wife.
**Is everything okay?**
No. No, everything is certainly not okay, but you’ve got way too much on your plate right now for me to introduce this to the meal.
**Very uncomfortable and boring work shit. I need my wife in the worst way.**
Hopefully that’s enough to derail this line of questioning.
**By the worst way, I hope you mean the best way.**
**Oh, yes, Mrs. Grey, the best way and every way. Please tell me that dinner—and you—are ready for me.**
I pause and wait for her answer.
**I’m always ready for you, Mr. Grey, and your dinner was ready quite some time ago. I couldn’t wait, I was too hungry and the beans wouldn’t take no for an answer. Do you want to heat your food for you?”
God, do I love her.
**Yes, please. Then go to the bedroom and put on something sexy. I want to admire you before I devour you.**
It took a little longer for her to respond this time.
**Dammit, Christian, I dropped my phone and had to find it. Thank God I wasn’t near any water! Where are you now?**
**I’m in the parking garage about to come and get you.**
**Well, come and get your dinner first. It’s in the microwave, and I’ll be in the bedroom waiting. Give me a little time, okay?”
I’ll give you all the time you need, Butterfly, because I doubt if you’ll be getting any sleep tonight.
**Okay, Baby. Get lost, we’re coming up.**
The texting stops and Jason and I get in the elevator. I loosen my tie and stretch my neck trying to relieve the tension there.
“Long day, huh?” Jason asks. I raise my eyes to him.
“Yeah. I’m facing one hell of a monster and I hope I can slay this dragon before he burns my castle down.”
“You’ll figure it out, Boss. You always do.” I hate to tell him that this time, I’m not so sure.
The elevator opens to the foyer and Jason opens the front door. The great room smells like… beef. This means that Butterfly had to heat dinner and basically run to the bedroom. I don’t know if she’ll ever be able to eat or stand beef again, but right now, it’s her worst enemy. Jason excuses himself for the night and I open the microwave to find a delicious beef stew. At my place setting in the dining room is a plate of healthy chunks of hearth bread with butter and a Merlot opened to breathe. I should have had Butterfly join me, but instead, I sit down and enjoy my meal, giving her time to make whatever preparations she wants to make in the bedroom.
When I have sopped the last of my stew with a piece of the hearth bread and popped it into my mouth, I take a satisfying gulp of my Merlot before rubbing my stomach happily. Now, to find my woman…
Her hair is tossed carelessly over her face and I’m watching her sleep. She’s exhausted. There was nothing gentle about our sex tonight. It was hard, long, wild, and animal. I was aggressive and rough and she gave it right back to me. Her chest is covered in love bites. My back is covered in scratches. There are teeth marks on my shoulders and I swear that some of my hair is between her fingers. She pushed my back against the headboard, sat in my lap, held on to those slats and rode me hard… and I mean hard! I must’ve left handprints in her ass as she bounced and pumped with no mercy, commanding me not to come until she came twice. When she turned around in reverse cowgirl and dropped that sweet ass on me, I was a goner. I came so hard that I lifted her off the bed with my pelvis, pumping hard and emptying my seed into her ass. I had her in every possible way and if I’m honest, I’m tired, too, but sleep just seems to evade me. I’m thinking about this intruder and what they could be after… who it could be.
One of many competitors.
A disgruntled employee, including those fucking attorneys I just fired or anyone from Vansteen.
Some pimple-faced kid trying to make a name for himself.
It could be anybody.
It’s a slow, quiet attack and that’s what frightens me the most. It’s made to look harmless, but it’s not. I have the best tech team that money can buy and I’ve even added more to it, which is why they were able to find these footprints so soon. Right now, it just looks like someone is walking around, opening doors, and peeking inside. What are they looking for and what’s going to happen when they find it?
I can’t sleep so I get out of bed and go to my study. I fire up my computer and open my email. I don’t know what I expect to find. Of course, it’s the same stuff that was there during my ride home. I open the email from the real estate agent. There are a few really nice properties on the waterfront just off the bridge. I don’t know how I feel about being that close to the bridge, but I would have to see them before I rule them out completely. There are two other properties further south on the island. One has eight bedrooms and the other has seven. That’s more than we talked about and I know it may be a bit ostentatious, but they are wonderful properties also on the water.
The property close to the bridge has several houses as part of the large estate—guest houses and pool houses and sports houses. It may be a bit much for a couple just starting out, even a billionaire and his wife, but this house has the long private drive which is a must-have on my list. I don’t know if the other properties don’t have one, or if the agent failed to include that information in the email, but that small fact has shot this property to the top of the list.
I’m rubbing my eyes because they are tired and burning and as much as I don’t want to admit it, I’m exhausted. I’m so preoccupied with everything that’s going on that I just haven’t been sleeping well at all, but I can’t even keep my eyes open. I have to find some way to stop my mind so that my body can get some rest before my systems mutiny against me. I shut down the computer and turn off the light in my study.
Butterfly hasn’t stirred. She seems more exhausted than I am. I wonder what her day was like today. I crawl back in bed and wrap my arms around her, her back to my front. I close my eyes and fall asleep instantly.
“You thought you were so damn untouchable. After all this time, you thought you could get away from me.”
No… this is impossible. He looks so big, like he did back then. I’m a grown man now. This can’t be.
“Did you think you could hide from me, you little shit? Get your ass over here!”
I’m being dragged. He’s dragging me! This isn’t possible! This can’t be happening.
“Let me go, you sick fuck!” and suddenly, I’m as tall as he is and we’re nose to nose. He’s snarling at me. Alcohol is heavy on his breath and seeping through his pores. I could take him. I couldn’t take him as a kid, but I could take him now. “Get your fucking hands off me!” I snap, pushing him hard away from me with both hands. He releases my shirt and stumbles backward. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“How’s that pretty little wife of yours?” he asks with a sinister little smirk. “She looks just like Ella. Is that why you picked her?”
I haven’t heard that name in years. I asked about her once and never asked again.
“My Ana is nothing like that useless, drug-addict whore, so don’t you dare compare them!”
“You made her that way!” he hisses.
“No, YOU made her that way!” I growled. “You kept her high on that shit until she killed herself just to get away from you and that life. She knew that I would be taken care of because you didn’t want me. So you can serve that shit somewhere else.”
“You’ll have little shits of your own soon,” his face is morphing into some grotesque monster and then into nothing but black. “You wait and see. Slowly but surely, you’re going to lose everything that’s important to you.” He has no face and no mouth, but still that same voice that has haunted so many nightmares before is wafting from the faceless void. “You won’t have anything left—no wife, no money, no family, no business, no nothing. I’m going to take it all. You just wait and see.”
“Who the fuck are you?” I’m desperate. I need to know who he is and what he wants, and suddenly, I’m feeling small again. No! No! This is not happening!
“You just wait. You’ll see. You think you’re safe. You think you’re invincible… untouchable… but you’ll see, Grey. You’ll see…”
His voice echoes through my head when I sit up in bed drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. I didn’t scream, so I didn’t wake Butterfly. I slide out of bed and to the bathroom to throw some cold water on my face. Why is Anton Myrick haunting my dreams? Every other nightmare has been some recollection of my childhood, but this time, he’s taunting me as an adult. What is this? I step in the shower to wash away the images and the familiar smell of the monster implanted in my brain for eternity.
It’s beginning to make a little sense now, but I think I better talk to Dr. Baker about it.
I’m showered, dressed, and drinking my coffee in about twenty minutes. A slightly sleepy-eyed Jason passes me with a travel mug and wordlessly goes into the great room. I finish my coffee just as Gail comes rushing out of their suite smoothing her hair, also looking a bit sleepy-eyed. I guess Butterfly and I weren’t the only ones bringing the house down last night.
“Can I get you something to eat, Christian—your usual omelet?” she says, her weariness evident in her voice.
“No, Gail, thank you. I’ll get something in the office. I’m in a bit of a hurry.” She looks at me questioning. She knows that I never skip breakfast, but this morning, I need to put some things in motion. I finish my coffee and stand from the breakfast bar. The elevator ride is silent and my mind is going a mile a minute. I need to gather some Intel on a few people, and I need it now. I open my phone and begin to make a list when we get to the car.
“Do you want to stop somewhere and get something to eat, Sir?” Jason asks me.
“No, I need to get to the office and talk to some people.”
“It’s just after dawn, sir. Nobody’s going to be there,” he protests.
“Someone will be there,” I say, still typing my list.
We enter Grey House and the security staff that were slouching at the front desk perk up immediately.
“Good morning, sir,” one of them says while straightening his tie. I grunt something intelligible and head straight to the elevator, still looking at my blackberry.
“Good morning, sir. You’re here early,” Barney answers the phone when I get to my desk. See, Jason, I told you someone would be here. Andrea’s not even here yet, but I knew Barney would be.
“Barney, when did we first notice these abnormalities in the network?”
“You mean when they first appeared or when we first saw them?”
“When they first appeared.”
“That’s hard to say, Sir.” Good fuck, why is everything hard to say? Give me a straight answer! “If we go back to every unknown entity that looks like a hack into the network, it could be years. This perpetrator is one of at least a million attempts to break our network.”
“Okay, let’s try something different. Something happened to set this guy apart from the others. What was that and when?”
“Again, it could be one of many, but we’ve narrowed it down to about ten. The biggest problem is that those 10 could all be one attacker, two, or even 10 separate attacks. The oldest of those attacks happened about…” he gets quiet and I can hear him typing, “…about 10 months ago. The most recent one to cause red flags occurred just a few weeks ago. We need to be sure before we put everybody on high alert.” I nod. I’m going to start in the most obvious places. I can’t sit still and let my entire empire be infiltrated by some unknown assailant and do nothing.
“I know your department is stretched thin with this assignment, but I need to know if you can spare a few people for a special project.”
“What’s the project?”
“I need the cyber trails of every person dismissed from GEH or a GEH subsidiary in the last year. I need to know where they’ve been in my company network over the last 12 months.” Barney whistles.
“Sir, that’s a massive undertaking,” he laments.
“I know, which is why I need someone familiar with the system to do it. With you focusing on the main vein, I need someone looking at the capillaries. Your budget is bottomless. You can bring in anybody you need, as long as they pass the security screening.”
“Can James’ company spare some more people? They’re some of the best I’ve seen.”
“Find out. Remember, bottomless. Don’t hesitate—get what you need, and get me what I need,” I reinforce.
“You got it, sir. I’ll get started right away.”
I end the call and make my second call after firing off an email.
“Sir,” Welch answers on the first ring.
“I sent you a list. I want to know what all of these people have been doing for the last 12 months and what they’re doing now.”
“Sir, most of these people are on our watch list,” he protests.
“I need you to look deeper. See if you’ve missed anything—who they may have been talking to, new relationships, anything that might lead us to whoever is running around in our systems.”
“Thinking outside the box.”
“We don’t have a choice,” I tell him.
“Okay, but… Lincoln’s in jail, sir.”
“She hasn’t been in jail for 12 months and she tried to kill me. I want all of her little pets investigated. She sent a snotty-nosed lawyer fresh out of correspondence school after me last November. I want the man who delivered sparkling water to her Kirkland estate investigated. I want one of your best guys on this, because I want you to stay sharp with current affairs. Bring in whomever you need—your budget is bottomless,” I say, repeating the words that I said to Barney.
“I don’t think I’ll need that much. I just may have to call in a few favors,” he says.
“Do what you need to do.”
“Yes, Sir.” I end the call and see that it’s still not 8am yet. Too early to call Dr. Baker or my father. I still need to get about the business of running my business. Andrea should be here any minute and she can run through my schedule with me. My dream is still haunting me… that fucker’s voice telling me that I could lose everything dear to me. Reality is merging with my biggest fears. If it wasn’t so goddamn early in the morning, I’d have a drink.
“I took the liberty of ordering some pastries from that bakery down the street. I thought you might be hungry.” Andrea comes in with a tray and some coffee. Jason and his big mouth. I know he told her that I skipped breakfast, the snitch.
“Thank you, Andrea,” I say, shamelessly gobbling down huge bites of an apple fritter. “What’s on the agenda today?”
“You have several meetings, sir. I left you notes on the two biggest ones.” She looks around my office and points to a stack of papers that have been sitting there since I don’t know how long. “I emailed them to you, too, sir.” Shit! I’ve been so preoccupied with this damn hacker, I didn’t even pay attention to these.
“How many meetings do I have today?” I ask her, she looks through her tablet.
“Six, including these.”
“Can the others be rescheduled?”
“Most likely, but if you’re going to focus your attention, you’re going to want to focus on that one. Feinstein are signing the final deal today and they’ve made some additional demands.” Additional demands? Oh, they’re crazy if they think they’re going to change the deal this late in the game.
“Cancel the others. Let’s start with them.”
About two hours later, Andrea and I have pulled out all of the bullshit these fuckers tried to slide into the deal. I call Allen down to double-check what I have found and make sure that I haven’t missed anything. It’s clear to me that Jones and Webber are still in their ear in some kind of way because these contracts have their paw prints all over them. I’m just about to prepare myself to go to battle with these assholes when I hear Allen nearly squealing in my lobby.
“Jewel! What are you doing here?” Shit. What is she doing here—and why do I all of a sudden have the feeling of impending doom with her here? She can’t be here right now—as a matter fact, she can’t be here at all.
Andrea examines me strangely before walking out of my office and back to her desk.
“Hi, Baby,” Butterfly says as she breezes into the office with a bag, no doubt full of food. “You were gone when I woke and Gail said you didn’t eat breakfast. I thought I bring you something—some fruit and cheese, croissants… I know you’ve had coffee already, so I stopped at that smoothie place and got you this mango-strawberry creation. I thought you’d like that.” She stands on her toes and kisses me quickly before proceeding to take the items out of her bag and arranging them on my desk.
“Um, Butterfly. It sounds delicious, but I’m just about to go into a meeting. It’s not for another 20 minutes, but I’m trying to prepare for it.”
“Oh,” she says, a bit surprised and trying to hide her disappointment. “I’m sorry, I should have called.”
“It’s very sweet,” I tell her, trying to ease the sting, but there’s still this niggling feeling. “I can eat when I get out of the meeting.” She smiles a tight smile and nods.
“Yes. It’ll keep. Just keep the containers closed and it should be fine… and find a refrigerator for the smoothie.”
“I will,” I say, putting my arms around her waist and kissing her gently. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she says with a smile, and like always, she can see right through me. “What’s wrong?” I sigh heavily. I’m worried… no, I’m scared. There’s no other way to put this. This is not a harmless attack. I’m not being paranoid, and that dream meant something. I know it did.
“Butterfly, I’m going to need you to stay away from Grey House for a while.”
I would have done better to punch her in the face.
“Why?” she says, her frown deepening and her voice several octaves that normal. “Because I came without calling?”
“No,” I say, my voice now higher than normal. What do I tell her? I don’t want to tell her about this cyber attack yet. I don’t have enough information, but if I tell her that I’m worried for her safety, that’s going to be an hour-long conversation that I can’t have right now.
“I can’t explain it to you right now, but it for the best,” I tell her. That sounded weak even to my ears.
“Can’t, or won’t?” she accuses. “You said you would tell me everything. If something’s going on, I don’t want to be left in the dark.” I don’t have time for this. I need her to listen to me and just do what I say. I can’t be worried about her and GEH, too.
“Ana, I just need you to not come around for a while,” I tell her, trying not to lose my patience. I’m losing prep time while I’m trying to convince her to stay away from the office. She reads my expression, no doubt laced with frustration and a bit of impatience. She squares her shoulders and I’m getting ready for the fight. Oh shit, not now… please, not now.
“Fine,” she says, sharply, putting her purse on her shoulders and walking to the door. “Enjoy your brunch.” She turns around and walks out the door, her heels clicking on the marble and daring anyone to come within 10 feet of her.
Shit! Shit! Shit! Fucking shit!
I want to throw something, but right now, I know that will get me nowhere. Instead, I call my dad before I go in to meet with the vultures.
“Good morning, Christian. I was just about to go into court. Is everything okay? Is the jury back so soon?”
“No, Dad, still waiting. Dad, is Anton Myrick still in jail?” There’s a pause.
“As far as I know, yes. What’s going on, Son?”
“I had a dream about him last night.” I run my hand through my hair.
“No offense, Christian, but you’ve told me that you frequently had dreams about him.”
“This one was different, Dad. Way different.”
“Oh?” he asks. “In what way?” I don’t want to tell him either, especially since I haven’t told Butterfly. Butterfly… shit!
“I’m an adult and he’s threatening my family and making reference to my kids,” I tell him.
“Hmm,” Dad says, “that sounds like your subconscious playing games on you. Have you talked to your psychiatrist? Are you still seeing John?”
“Not for nearly a year, Dad. How could you not know that?”
“Did you tell me?” My father answers calmly. Come to think of it, I didn’t tell him.
“I’m seeing a different doctor. I’ll see if she has any emergency openings or a few minutes to talk to me.”
“Is it Ana?” I twist my lips.
“Really, Dad?” I ask him sardonically. “Ana can’t be my shrink—she’s my wife.”
“Just checking,” he says. I shake my head.
“Well, just check and make sure Myrick is still in jail. Humor me, okay?”
“Okay, son. I’ll find out.”
“Thanks, Dad. I gotta go.”
“Yeah, me too. Talk to you later.” I end the call just in time for Allen to come back into the room minutes before we’re supposed to go to the conference room.
“Do I even want to know why Jewel’s heels were doing the ‘get the hell away from me or I’ll fuck you up’ click across the marble floor downstairs?”
“No,” I say flatly. “What do you have?” He shrugs.
“You were right about the changes you found. There was nothing else though. This is pretty amateur shit, Chris. Reeks of those losers you fired, but more on an entry level—not stuff we’re accustomed to seeing from them. I would say same style, but not them. You don’t even need to pull out your big guns on this one. Just do that regular crunch and crush that you normally do with your Cesar Picotti’s and you should be fine.”
“Good. Let’s go crush these fuckers.”
“Remember, you don’t need your big guns.”
“I know I don’t, but I do need to let off some frustrations…”
Those poor fuckers never knew what hit them. All this time, I thought I was playing with some nice-sized fish—maybe not a whale, but at least a nice hunk of tuna. These morons turned out to be guppies. I go in expecting to play hardball and it turns out to be stick ball. They could have had those fuckers I fired on staff and they still wouldn’t have been able to offer me a decent challenge.
When I walked into the conference room on the 18th floor, Thomas was sitting back in his chair with his jacket open, one foot crossed over his knee like he owns the place. I just glared at him, because I knew what he was doing. It only took about 30 seconds for him to straighten up in that seat, and I could have stood there all day. I went right into those bullshit demands they had and shot them down one by one. With all the work that I had put in and that shit that they tried to pull a few months ago, I was ready to let the deal go—especially after having that little tiff with Butterfly this morning. I’m on edge like you wouldn’t believe with this cyber attack and this fucking Myrick dream and fighting with my beautiful wife when I would much rather be fucking her, and these asshole have the nerve to poke the hornet’s nest.
Thomas briefly tried to insinuate that if they didn’t get the demands they made—or at least some of them—that they would pull out of the deal and take the information that they had elsewhere. That was the wrong move. With these phantom attacks on my company, I really don’t know who knows what, but there’s one thing for damn sure. I’m going to sniff them the fuck out like the rats that they are and if they are in cahoots with H&S or Feinstein, I might as well know now—and I sure as fuck won’t allow those assholes to hold me hostage and affect my negotiations. So that was definitely the wrong move.
After reminding him about our conversation a few months back, I realized that he had nothing, and these dumb “stuffed shirts” let him do the talking. I finally tired of the whole situation and informed them that they might want to put a sock in Thomas’ mouth because if he keeps talking, not only will I walk away and go forward with the lawsuits like I promised, but I’ll also make damn sure that everyone in the industry knows what kind of bad faith this company operates under. Any company doing business with or hoping to do business with Grey Enterprises won’t go anywhere near Feinstein, and that’s a whole lot of territory. When the meeting was done, not only did we have the signed contracts, but we also got some concessions that we didn’t anticipate. You can’t bring a knife to a gunfight, you idiots. If abusing them hadn’t been so much fun, I would have been insulted. I’ll own this company in a year.
I finally get a moment around lunchtime to call Dr. Baker. I almost feel like I don’t need to call her since I’m feeling like my old self after that meeting, but I know that the adrenaline will wane soon and all of the old monsters will be back. She couldn’t drop what she was doing to talk to me this time, but she told me that she had maybe a few minutes after lunch as long as it didn’t turn out to be an entire session. If that was the case, I would have to wait for our scheduled appointment next week or hope for a cancellation. Nope. I’ll take the fifteen minutes after lunch.
“I’ll dispense with the niceties, Christian, as we’re pressed for time. Tell me what’s going on,” she says, when I call her back at the allotted time. I tell her about what’s going on with the company and about my dream of Myrick. I hadn’t had any dreams about him for quite some time, and when I did, they were flashbacks. He’s never presented himself to me as an adult.
“This is an easy one,” she tells me. “Myrick represents your phantom attacker. You don’t know who it is, you don’t know what they want, and you don’t know what’s going on, but you know the possible ramifications of them getting access into your network. There’s an intruder in your house hiding in a corner—you don’t know who he is, what he wants, or which corner. So he takes the face of your biggest nemesis.”
“He’s not my biggest nemesis,” I protest, thinking of all the companies that I’ve bought and put out of business. Shit, I have ex-subs that pose a bigger threat than he does. Speaking of which…
“Yes, he is, Christian,” she says, bringing my thoughts back to the here and now. “Name one person in your life that has affected you more harshly that he has—not your birth mother, not Elena, and certainly none of your competitors. The last time you saw that man, you were four years old. Twenty-six years ago and he’s still etched in your memory like you saw him yesterday. He most certainly is your biggest nemesis. He represents the unknown. He was the only one who has taken advantage of you when you were helpless and weak. That’s why you felt small in the dream. Even your relations with Elena were consensual. Even as a child, you could have stopped it. You could have gone to your parents and told them what was going on. You chose not to…”
“It really wasn’t that simple, Dr. Baker,” I interject. Lincoln had a hold on me. I craved her at one point. Though the thought sickens me now, it was the truth back then.
“Okay, maybe not, but did you ever have bad dreams about Elena—even after she tried to kill you?” Point taken. I only wanted to kill her after that.
“I see your point. I still can’t reconcile something, though. If this has to do subconsciously with the cyber attack, why did he bring my wife and unborn children into it?”
“What would hurt you more right now, losing your company or losing your family?” I feel a sharp pain in my chest when she asks that question. I put my life into GEH—lots of blood, sweat, and tears, literally—and if something happened to my life’s work, I would be utterly devastated. However, I would push a broom on the streets of Seattle as long as I could be with Ana and the beans. My breath quickens a bit at the thought of losing them, really losing them.
“My family,” I breathe, trying to get a hold of my wild emotions. “My family. I would hate to lose my company, but my family is more important.”
“Yes. That’s why he attacked your family. Dreams are a manifestation of your subconscious, Christian. This unknown entity with no face has taken the form of your worst nightmare and attacked those people and things dearest to you in your sleep when you are most susceptible. It’s that simple.”
“So what do I do about it?” I ask, hoping for a quick escape from future nightmares.
“You know what to do about it. Neutralize the threat.” Well, that’s obvious.
“There’s nothing I can do about the dream? It’s making it hard to function.”
“Use your wife to reassure yourself. She’s here with you. She’s not going anywhere. She’s carrying your babies…” Yeah, and I sent her away from Grey House pissed off this morning.
“Yeah, about that…” I explain to Dr. Baker our brief meeting this morning in my office.
“Oh, well, that was really smart!” she says sarcastically. “Why did you do that?”
“Because this threat is real and I don’t want her around here until I can figure out what’s going on.”
“Does she know about the threat?” she asks.
“No. She’s already petrified that the world is going to swallow our babies whole. Then there’s the trial and waiting for David’s verdict, the Green Valley suspects taking pleas… She’s already under so much stress and I just don’t want to add to it.”
“And this was your solution? Ana, stay away from Grey House? Seriously, Christian? You can’t be that dense!”
“I don’t even know what we’re up against, so I have no idea what to tell her,” I say in my defense.
“Well, you better come up with something, because you have effectively banned your wife from your place of business and she has no idea why.”
“Yeah, I know. Thanks for the talk, Doc. I have to get back to work.”
“Damn, straight, you do. You better find out what’s going on fast before you self-destruct. And Christian, that is my professional opinion. Find out what’s going on before whoever this is wears you down slowly.” I sigh heavily.
“Thanks, Doc.” I say before I end the call. I immediately dial Butterfly’s number.
“You’ve reached Dr. Steele. If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911. Otherwise, please feel free to leave a message.” Why did I just feel a pang in my side at the name Dr. Steele?
“Hey, Baby, it’s me. I can’t explain it to you right now because I don’t have all the answers, but I need you to understand that you just need to stay away from Grey House for a while. I don’t know what else to tell you right now. I would have loved to sit and enjoy that delicious fruit and cheese with you. Please don’t worry. It’s probably nothing, but I just don’t have the details right now and the less people know, the better. Please trust me. I love you.”
I end the call and try her office.
“Dr. Steele’s office,” the voice answers.
“Marilyn? Is Ana there?”
“No, Dr. Steele isn’t in. This is her answering service. Would you like to leave a message?” I sigh. Yes, I would, but I can’t leave it with you.
“No. No message, thank you.” I end the call feeling a bit forlorn. She’s probably at Helping Hands with Mom, but if she didn’t answer her phone, she’s most likely still pissed.
Fuck my life.
“Sir?” my thoughts are broken by Jason’s voice. I didn’t even know that he had come into the office.
“Yeah?” I ask distracted.
“Her Highness is banned from Grey House?” Oh, shit. Butterfly’s been talking. This is why I don’t want to say anything about what’s going on.
“Yes, I told her to stay away for a while. I don’t want her around while we try to sniff out this threat. Do you have a problem with that?”
Maintaining his impassive demeanor, Jason simply says, “No, Sir. I had a question about the security protocol for Grey Enterprises and you just answered it.” He steps back out of the door and closes it behind him.
A/N: Thank you all for being so invested in me and in my story. As you know, I will be taking a bit of a break after Book II, but hopefully it won’t be too long. Even with a lot of the controversy, I miss my story and I miss you guys.
Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc. can be found at http://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/mending-dr-steele/
You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.
Love and Handcuffs!