I KNOW THAT YOU HAVEN’T GOTTEN AN EMAIL YET BECAUSE I HAVEN’T SENT ONE. I JUST WANTED TO GET THE CHAPTER POSTED BEFORE I GO TO WORK.
This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.
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. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues…
Chapter 53—Big Brother
I’ve gone back to wearing my tailored holster. The one I borrowed from the security office turned out to be a laughable failure.
I’m running over all the conversations I had with all the people that I spoke to today as I secure my Glock in its case and step out of my clothes in my dressing room. I’m accustomed to doing a lot in a day, but this has been quite the extended sprint.
Shut down any communication from Aragon and rein in my crazy head of security’s absurd attempts at trying to shield my family from the affects of dust.
Try to figure out exactly what’s in those storage bins. I’m so close on that because I don’t want Freeman to get word of the movement and try to do something to hold things up. I and my father and uncle aren’t there to stop him from trying something, so I’m trying to wrap things up as quickly as I can. I was going to have them try to distribute things from the storage bins. Now, I’m thinking to go with my first mind and ship everything here unless there’s something that’s just too fragile to travel.
Mission accomplished getting Aunt Tina to understand that she needs to cherish these last moments with Harmony. It’s a gift that her daughter will treasure for the rest of her life. As I step into the shower and allow the water to run over my head and face, I recall the conversation we had in her room, the one that brought her relief and caused her a bit of grief at the same time.
“Aunt Tina, Harmony, you don’t have to worry about that asshole getting any of Harmony’s inheritance. He’s not entitled to any of it.”
“I thought he was if I get it while we’re still married,” Harmony protests. “Isn’t it considered assets acquired after marriage?”
“Yes, but inheritances are protected as long as you don’t put the proceeds in a joint account.”
“Like hell that’s going to happen,” Harmony says without thinking. “Sorry, Mom.”
“Oh, thank God,” Aunt Tina says, breathing like the weight of the world has been lifted from her shoulders. “I so didn’t want that wretched man to get anything from my Harmony.” I sigh.
“Now, I have some not-so-good news,” I tell her. Harmony sits up straight, still perched on the floor at her mother’s knees.
“What is it?” she asks. Tina’s attention is now focused on me as well.
“My bodyguard, Jason—he wears an earpiece that keeps him in contact with the rest of our security team. Different frequencies of signals interfere with his earpiece… just like they interfere with your hearing aid.” She raises a brow to me.
“I don’t know what any of that means,” she admits.
“He was fine when we walked into the house,” I tell her. “The closer he got to your room, the worse the interference became. He alerted me of his suspicions and I asked if he could scramble signals.” She’s still frowning.
“Suspicions?” Harmony questions. “Of what, Christian?”
“We think your room is bugged,” I admit.
“That’s preposterous!” Tina declares. “Who would want to bug my room? Why?”
“I don’t know, but Jason warned me that the scrambler would interfere with the signal on the bug and it would interfere with a regular signal from a cell tower, meaning that I wouldn’t get a signal from my phone.” Harmony pulls out her phone.
“He’s right,” she says. “I don’t have a signal.”
“As soon as you said the humming in your ear stopped, I checked my phone and I had no signal.”
“Well, that could mean anything, Christian,” Aunt Tina says. “There are satellite boxes and all sorts of things in this house.”
“You could be right. Aunt Tina, but none of these things interfere with Jason’s communications earpiece.” She’s still shaking her head. “If you would just humor me, I’d like to have a team come in tomorrow and do a sweep of your home. If we find nothing, then all is well. If we find something, then we take action.”
“What kind of action?” she asks.
“Trying to find out who bugged your room and where the signals are going.” She twists her lips.
“It’s worth looking into, Momma,” Harmony says. “At the very least, we can find what’s making your hearing aid hum…”
So, now, Barney and a team of techs will show up at Aunt Tina’s house with an insane security detail with instructions to break Roger’s ankles if he tries to get in their way.
He’s the butler. What the hell is he expecting? Is he in line for some kind of inheritance, too? Luckily, even though Aunt Tina wasn’t involved in any kind of alternative activity, her staff was still required to sign confidentiality agreements upon accepting employment because I have a feeling that his days are numbered once Tina passes on.
I lather my hair and scratch thoroughly, trying to erase some of this day from my memory. It seems like too much happened at once. I don’t do well with death and it’s written all over Aunt Tina’s face.
I don’t know how long I stay in the shower trying to rid myself of all the remnants of this day. It’s somewhere around nine when I get to my office—brandy in hand, hair still wet—and open my laptop. I open my email and begin to respond to and clean up emails as quickly as I can—deleting those that aren’t important and shooting off answers to those that only need short responses. About one-fourth the way through my emails from today, I see one from Smalls simply labelled “Cars.” I click on the email and there are no preliminaries, just several pictures. I click on the first one:
“Oh, a glove… I get it.” I open the next one.
I have to think about this one. Lives in the light but dies if the light shines on me. I have no idea. I look at the next one.
I totally have no idea. And these are supposed to lead us to the keys and titles to the car? I open the next one.
I try to see the logic in each puzzle like the logic in the first. Of course, it’s logical—I know the answer to it already. Nonetheless, I have no idea what the answers are. I open the next picture expecting to find a fifth riddle. I find something quite different.
It’s still mostly covered by the tarp, probably to protect it from the dust and whatnot in the storage bin, but I get a very clear picture of a beautiful classic car underneath. The cover is pulled back to reveal about one-third of the car, and it’s fucking gorgeous.
“Hell, Pops,” I say, opening the next pictures to reveal another… and another… and a fourth. Four presumably fully-restored classic cars. Cherry was right. These cars have to be worth a fortune. Still not too late. I dial Uncle Herman.
“Hey, Christian. What’s up? You’ve got some news about the storage bins?” I suppose that’s a safe assumption. I don’t really call for much else.
“Yeah, Uncle Herman. You remember I told you there was a car in one of the bins, right?”
“Yeah, I remember,” he says.
“Well, I was wrong… there’s four.” Uncle Herman is silent for a moment.
“Four cars?” he says. I nod as if he can see me. “Four damn cars? In storage? Rick!” I can hear shuffling like he’s moving around. I don’t say anything, but I can hear him mumbling something about cars and still calling my father. “You sure, man? Four cars? Shit! Rick!”
I don’t get a chance to answer him at all. I think his questions were just rhetorical.
“I’m here! Keep your shirt on! Where’s the fire?” Dad says, his voice getting closer to the phone.
“Rick, four cars! Four damn cars in that storage facility.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Dad asks.
“Dad’s storage facility. In Detroit! There are four cars in there!” Dad is silent for a minute.
“You’re shittin’ me!” he barks.
“I’ve got Christian on the phone. He says there’s four cars in that damn facility!” I hear the phone rustling.
“Christian? Four? What kind of cars are they?” Dad asks me.
“I don’t know, Dad. I don’t know cars like that. But they’re classics, and they’re all restored.”
“Shit! Seriously?” he exclaims. “How do you know?”
“I’ve got pictures… well partial pictures…”
“Send them to me. Can you send them to my phone?”
“Can you access your email from your phone?”
“I’m already there…” I forward the pictures to Dad’s phone. The line is silent for a minute then I hear Dad’s voice again making some kind of strange exclamation.
“I can only see pieces, but these are some cherried-out cars, Herm,” he says to his brother. I assume they’re passing the phone back and forth and looking at the cars.
“I can tell by the frames that these are all Fords,” I hear Uncle Herman say.
“No shit, Sherlock?” Dad says. “I don’t know exactly what the hell they are, but I know Dad’s not going to buy anything else.”
“I don’t either. We should call Stan,” Uncle Herman says.
“It’s midnight in Detroit,” Dad protests.
“So, what? Wake his ass up. This is important! Hold on, Christian…” The line goes dead for a minute and when he returns, I can hear another line ringing.
“This better be important,” Uncle Stan’s sleepy voice says.
“It is,” Uncle Herman replies. “So, Stan, what do ya know about Fords?”
“You’ve got jokes at a quarter to one in the morning?” Uncle Stan replies.
“Take a look at your phone,” he says. I assume Uncle Herman texted him the pictures from Dad’s phone.
“I see riddles,” he says. “You woke me for riddles?” Shit, I forgot about the riddles.
“Riddles? No, look for pictures,” Uncle Herman says. After a few more moments, Uncle Stan comes back to the line.
“Okay, you woke me for old Fords,” Uncle Stan says.
“Not just any old Fords, Stan—classics, four of them, all in Dad’s storage facilities.”
“Are you serious!?” Uncle Stan is awake now. I can see him in my mind’s eye sitting straight up in bed. “These are in Dad’s storage? How long have they been there?”
“If you don’t know, we sure don’t,” Uncle Herman says. “I didn’t even know he had these things.”
“So, what’s with the damn riddles?” Uncle Stan asks.
“Yeah, about that,” I interject. “Hi, Uncle Stan. It’s Christian. So, you can’t move the cars out of the storage because we can’t find the keys. Apparently, these riddles are Pops’ way of leading you to the keys and the titles.”
Uncle Stan and Uncle Herman laugh at the same time and Dad asks what’s funny.
“You missed some files in that email. Here—open these.”
“We’ve got a regular party line going on here,” Uncle Stan jests. “I got the first one. It’s a glove.”
“Yeah, but do you know what it means?” I ask. “My men figured out the riddles for the manifest to find the cars, but they can’t figure these out. So, we had instructions to ‘ask the boys.’”
“Yeah, Dad and his riddles,” I hear Dad say. “You’d think he would have gotten some new ones.”
“So, you know what these mean?” I ask.
“Well, that third one kinda got me stomped,” I hear Dad say.
“Let me see,” Uncle Herman asks. I hear shuffling. “Poison without touching… no clue. I’m getting nothing from this.”
“Yeah, me either,” Uncle Stan says. Well, that’s not helping.
“The last one has something to do with Christmas.” Uncle Herman says.
“Uncle Herman, I’m dying to know how you figured that out,” I say.
“Flies when it’s born, lies when it’s alive, runs when it’s dead—snow,” he says matter-of-factly. “Dad did these with us all the time. It was his way of forcing us to think outside the box.”
“Pops was a smart man,” I say, not really meaning to say it aloud.
“Yes, he was,” Uncle Herman confirms softly. “Now, let’s figure out the ones we know. A glove, snow, and…”
“A shadow!” Dad says. “Live where there’s light but die if the light shines on me… a shadow.” There’s silence for a moment.
“Yeah, Rick, that’s it. A shadow. So, what does this stuff mean?” Uncle Herman says. I can tell that he has now put me and Uncle Stan on speaker.
“Well, the glove would have to either be work gloves or baseball gloves,” Dad says. “I didn’t know Dad to keep work gloves, did you?”
“No, but he kept every one of our baseball gloves from little league,” Uncle Herman says.
“Now all we have to do is find the baseball gloves. That’ll be like finding a needle in a haystack,” Uncle Stan complains.
“Maybe not,” I interject. “We’ve got a manifest of the stuff in storage. We might be able to find some of these things on the manifest.”
“Okay, so we’ve got somewhere to start. What about the Christmas one?” Uncle Herman says.
“The Christmas decorations?” Dad says. “You know we hated sorting those things every year, but Mom loved them, and I can guarantee Dad kept them.”
“Oh, I’m certain Dad kept them,” Uncle Herman says. “We put them on the tree the last year we were in Detroit. I had to help him sort them by myself because certain slacker brothers were MIA!”
They rib each other for a while over the Christmases they had to sort these old-fashioned Christmas decorations—homemade, some with moving parts, strings of lights with the giant light bulbs. I’m certain this is exactly what Pops wanted them to do after he was gone.
“Alright, you slackers, what about the third one? The shadow?” Dad asks.
“Oh, that’s easy. That has to be the silhouette pictures Mom did of us. Is there any other possible thing you could think of?” Uncle Stan says. There’s silence for a moment.
“I’ll go with you on that one, Stan, because I’m drawing a blank,” Uncle Herman says.
“Same here,” Dad concurs. “Now this fourth one, we’re never going to figure this out…” I don’t tell my father and my uncles, but I’m already typing the riddle into Google:
We hurt without moving.
We poison without touching.
We bear the truth and the lies.
We are not judged by our size.
What are we?
When the answer pops up, I already know what Pops wanted. It was never going to happen, and in the end, I’m sure he knew that, but there was nothing he could do about it by then.
“Pops wanted you to work as a team to get these answers,” I inform them.
“We know that. We are,” Dad defends.
“Uncle Herman figured out the baseball gloves. Dad, you got the Christmas decorations. Uncle Stan, you were right on top of the silhouettes… There’s a teammate missing.”
“Shit,” Dad hisses. “Well, I’m not calling him.”
“We may have to if we want to figure this out,” Uncle Stan interjects.
“The hell we do!” Uncle Herman barks. “Each one of us may have figured out what the riddles meant, but a different one of us figured out each riddle. We work as a team, we figure this shit out. Fuck Freeman!”
Okay, Uncle Herman is pissed. I almost want to tell them the answer to the riddle, but I have a feeling Pops wants them to do this themselves.
Nobody said anything about hints, though.
“Why don’t you guys try to brainstorm about each line?” I ask. “And try to think like Freeman, if that’s possible.” I hear sighs of impatience from each brother, and the brain-storming starts.
“They bear truth and lies—people?”
“People are always judged by their size. What’s not judged by its size?”
“Oh, shit, that could be anything.”
“Poison without touching. What the hell can poison you without touching—air?”
“I can’t think of anything else, but what’s with the size thing? Air is infinite unless you’re in a vacuum.”
“Think Freeman. He doesn’t bear lies, necessarily, but he’s poison as shit.”
“Attitude? Could it be attitude?”
They go on like this for several minutes and I just want to blurt out the answer. That’s when Uncle Stan brings the conversation around to the right direction.
“Books tell truth and lies.”
That’s it, Uncle Stan, we’re on the right track.
“Dad has a billion books. He wouldn’t put that key in a book. That would be inhumane.”
“Remember this is Freeman’s clue we’re talking about.”
“Well, like I said, he’s poison as shit.”
What does he use to poison?
“Yeah, his mouth gives new meaning to ‘loose lips sink ships.’”
You’re getting there, boys.
“Loose lips… mouths bear truth and lies… but they can’t poison without touching…”
“Mouths can’t,” Dad speaks up, “but words can!”
Everyone gets quiet.
“Dad once told Freeman that his words were venomous. Poison without touching—they bear truth and lies, and kill is a small word with a really big meaning, while infinitesimal means small. And they don’t move, but they can cut you down like a mighty tree.”
Bingo. You got it, Dad.
“God, that’s perfect for Freeman,” Uncle Herman says, “but what does it mean?”
“Uncle Herman, when did you guys first realize that Freeman was kind of venomous with his words?” I ask. “Was it when he lost his girlfriend?”
“No, it was well before that,” he replies. “He would say little snide things that really hurt, even as a kid. Remember, Rick? Dad gave him that book Harriet the Spy?”
“Yeah, I do,” Dad says. “He was supposed to learn a lesson from it, but I think the asshole used it as a bible. He’s a perfect example of why the book is banned. He totally missed the…” Dad trails off.
“What’s the matter, Rick?”
“That’s where the fourth key is,” Dad says. “That book was banned from school libraries in the eighties and it pissed Dad off, remember?”
“Vaguely,” Uncle Herman says.
“I always wondered why that one little white book was in Dad’s library with all his leather-bound books,” Uncle Stan points out. “It makes perfect sense.”
“So, now we have somewhere to look. What about the cars?” Dad says.
“I can’t tell what these are from these pictures,” Stan says. “I can’t see the tail lights and most of the cars are covered.”
“Well, get your ass down to that storage facility tomorrow and get a look at those cars,” Uncle Herman says. “You can give the guy in charge the info we discovered and see if they can find that stuff on the manifest. His name is Terry Smalls.”
“Um, I have to work,” Stan protests. “Screw it, I’ll take a sick day. This is more important. You still could have called me at a more decent hour.”
“Then you would have missed the opportunity to take a sick day because you would have been at work already. Goodnight, Stan. Love ya, buddy.”
“Goodnight, ass,” Stan says, and ends the call.
“I’ll text Smalls tonight to tell him to expect Uncle Stan in the morning,” I say.
“Christian, it’s after midnight in Detroit,” Dad protests.
“That’s why I’m texting him instead of calling him,” I say. “Goodnight, Dad, Uncle Herman.”
“Goodnight,” they both say, and we end the call.
The black Lexus pulls up to the circular drive at the sprawling estate in Bloomfield Hills. Black Italian leather shoes exit the back seat of the car as Ricardo steps out as strides to the portico. The glass doors open before he has a chance to ring the bell.
“Mr. Aragon,” the butler says as he steps aside. Ricardo walks past him, ignoring his greeting and walking the route he does nearly every day—through the lavish formal living room, past the overly masculine entertainment room, down the hall decorated with ridiculously expensive works of art. The house is a statement in overcompensation, but Ricardo would never admit it.
At the last door on the right, Ricardo Aragon turns the knob and enters his boss’s lair. More ostentatious than the rest of the house, this room is decorated in lush fabrics and imported leathers and textiles, boasts a full service wet bar, and a media section that would be the envy of any sports enthusiast.
“How was your trip?” the lone voice says from behind a luxurious easy chair.
“He refused our request,” Ricardo replies. A hand with well-manicured nails presses a button and silences the many screens on the far wall.
“I’m aware,” the voice says. “You were your usual persuasive self, I presume.”
“Even more so,” Ricardo hisses as he pours himself a scotch. “Arrogant prick made it clear that he’s not afraid of death.” He throws back the shot. Ricardo’s host turns in his chair, his own scotch in his hand. Ricardo is always amazed by the fact that this guy looks so young to have amassed so much power.
“Hmm, he would rather die than bow,” Sunset observes. “He’s got real balls. I admire that.”
“I think we should teach him a lesson in respect,” Ricardo shoots, not at all pleased that his boss appears to be idolizing the bastard who basically tossed him out of Seattle with his ass in his hands.
“And that’s why I’m in charge and you take the orders,” Sunset retorts. “You put on a good show but I’m the one that gives the command. You don’t chop off a finger because somebody showed you up.”
“He didn’t show me up. He showed you up. I represent you!” Ricardo retorts, trying to incite his boss. Sunset laughs.
“That may be true, Ricky, but you need to understand that sometimes, it takes a gentler hand to catch the big fish. I sent you to Seattle to tell someone to let me know when they come to the city. You failed. Why? Because a goddamn billionaire thinks some thug in Detroit is trying to tell him where he can and can’t go. I could have sent Chev or Mumford to try to strongarm the guy. I knew that wasn’t going to work. I needed suave and smooth, handle with care, and you came strolling in there like fucking Fredo Corleone. It’s a wonder he or one of his men didn’t shoot you on the fucking street! I would’ve reacted the same way he did.
“Now, you want to make an example of him because you sashayed into his city throwing threats and making demands that you’re in no position to make like a goddamn amateur! I’m not trying to overthrow Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, or the Koch Brothers, and I’m sure as fuck not trying to overthrow Christian Grey. I’m looking for one red-headed, big-mouthed, motherfucker and he ain’t him! Keep an eye on him like I told you. I can guarantee you tomorrow he’ll be riding around in a fucking armored truck! He’ll have the goddamn Presidential cavalcade behind him. Ant won’t come anywhere near him now and we probably lost the best decoy we’ve ever had!!
“Let me explain something to you that you don’t seem to understand. Power is nothing more than glorified respect. Your power only goes as far as your respect, and more than 50% of power is imagined. My power comes from the fact that people fear me. They know what I’m capable of. My reputation precedes me, and people know what I can do. To achieve the kind of power and respect that I have, they would have to overthrow me and none of them have the gumption to try because they know that I’ll gut them like pigs.” Aragon swallows hard.
“Grey doesn’t know that,” Sunset continues. “He’s an international mogul with connections and ties that we don’t even know about. He has a dollar just like I have a dollar. He knows people just like I know people, or do I need to remind you about Ratzinger?” Aragon is visibly uncomfortable.
“The difference between his power, my power, and your power is that your power comes from me and he knows that. His power is his own. He took Myrick’s kid down by himself. The Feds just came in and cleaned up the mess. And there are still a couple of hackers and a company informant involved in that job that we can’t locate. They’ve dropped off the face of the earth, and I’m willing to wager that no one anywhere will ever hear from them again.
“I know guys like him. I’ve met guys like him. I’ve dealt with guys like him. I am guys like him. He most likely has no idea whatsoever what happened to those two and he doesn’t get his hands dirty unless it’s personal… and you threatened to go to his house where his treasured wife lives and his babies sleep. You feel like a big man now?” Aragon’s lips form a thin line. He’s not surprised that Sunset knows the details of his visit before he even had the chance to reveal them.
“You told me to make sure he doesn’t come to Detroit without permission. How did you expect me to do that?” he protests.
“See, that’s your fucking problem!” Sunset barks. “I did not tell you to make sure he doesn’t come to Detroit without permission! You heard what you wanted to hear, and you acted accordingly! I said advise Grey to inform us when he’s coming to Detroit as Myrick may be tracking him and we want to be prepared in case he decides to engage—or did you conveniently forget that Grey is not my damn concern?”
“No, sir, I haven’t,” Aragon replies through his teeth.
“This is a business first and foremost and I am a goddamn businessman, not a fucking thug. You want to throw around that fucking gang mentality, go on out in the streets, just don’t ever fucking cross me. I fear no man, but I also don’t pick useless fights. Why would I do that? Bullies only hold power for a minute, Rick, and then they’re shot dead in the street. Is that what you want?”
“No, sir,” Aragon says flatly.
“Good, because you’re valuable to me and I don’t want to lose you. What did I expect you to do? Be the fucking advisor and representative that I groomed you to be. You’re behaving like a common street punk. They’re a dime a bushel and that’s not what the fuck I need.
“Make no mistake, everyone has a target on their chest, Ricky, even you, but I’m counting on that target that Myrick has on Grey’s the pull that rat out the woodwork. His hate for that guy is deep and personal, and he’s not going to go down without taking Grey with him. That’s what I’m waiting for. He’s the first and the last person I allowed to get that much information on me and my business—a crucial mistake. You don’t even have as much info as he does, and priority number one is to take his ass down, not make Grey bow. Like I said, you’re valuable to me, so stop acting so goddamn cocky and act smart like you used to!
“Don’t think for a second that he hasn’t instructed his men to shoot your ass on sight. What do you think Seattle Police is going to do when your body dredges up from a drain on the Alaskan Viaduct or worse yet, the coroner comes and scrapes your remains off Grey’s marble floor? They’re coming straight to me, wondering why my number one guy was harassing one of Seattle’s finest citizens. I will have lost my best man and much less, I don’t need that headache. Don’t forget—your actions all come back to me, Ricky. So, consider him protected, in case you get any ideas.
“I don’t apologize, and your apology is useless right now. Get the fuck out of my face so I can try to figure out some kind of truce to send this man, so he can call off his fucking dogs. Thanks to your performance, I can guarantee you that unauthorized air can’t get to Prince and Princess Grey, let alone some revenge attempt by that little worm.”
Ricardo purses his lips and leaves the room while Sunset presses the button near his hand, and the screens come alive again.
I awake on Thursday and Christian is already out of bed. He came in last night, took a shower and went straight to his study. I know he came to bed last night because his side of the bed is rustled and doesn’t have that cold, nobody’s-been-here-all-night feeling. I throw my legs over the edge of the bed and the day’s task start rushing at me as soon as my feet hit the floor.
Decide on a layout for my home office. I have a feeling that I’ll be spending more time there than I planned. Christian is trying to tell me that everything is okay and although I still don’t want a fucking wagon train following me to work, it’s safer for me and the twins inside the walls and gates of Grey Crossing, whatever’s going on. I won’t tell Christian that I’ll be doing most of my work from home, but not willingly dragging my precious babies into unknown peril helps to fend off the Boogeyman feeling a bit. I’m happy with my decision.
Talk to Harmony and Marilyn about their respective problems. I didn’t get a chance to see Harmony at all yesterday and Marilyn acted as if everything was just honky-dory, so I didn’t press the matter. Babies don’t just go away, and if she is pregnant and decides to keep the baby, it’s going to change our dynamic, too. She’s at my beck and call right now, and that’s certainly not going to be the case with her being a mom.
And Harmony… I haven’t heard anything from Al about her divorce case, but I know she’s a nervous wreck with this greedy asshole slithering around waiting for her mother to die. It’s bad enough that she has to contend with her mom’s impending demise, but now this? It’s inhumane.
I don’t watch much television, but last night, I did see one of the promos for our segment on Monday. Looking at it with not such a critical eye, it was pretty good. It gives just enough bait for you to want to see more on Monday if you already know us, and enough to have you chomping at the bit to see the whole segment if you don’t. It brings to mind another task that I should do before Monday.
Release a statement about those sexual misconduct charges levied against me.
Without some kind of prelim, the little bit that we’ve said about the charges leaves a lot to the imagination. I don’t want to come off as some spoiled rich socialite who thinks she’s above the law or punishment. This kind of thing, of course, has to be investigated. However, the way I was treated by that board was completely unprofessional and uncalled for. I’ve touched on the issue in some of my interviews, but I haven’t really delved into anything substantial.
It’s time to call Vee.
Genie pants and a wrap-around today since I’m not leaving the house. My abs seem a little loose, so I’m going to have to focus on them a bit. I’ve been lazy with my workouts since Christian’s escape to Madrid. I need to get back into the routine again. Finding my Zen is great and all, but it won’t help me if I’m 175 pounds and flabby—not a good look for someone barely over five feet tall.
I don’t bother questioning the staff where Christian is when I come downstairs for breakfast.
“Not going in today?” Ms. Solomon says with a frown. I shake my head as I eat my bagel. “Are you feeling alright?”
“I feel fine,” I say. “I’m getting some work done on my office downstairs and I need to make some decisions about it, so I’ll be here today.” I chomp on my bagel and look at the information Courtney forwarded about projected staffing needs. She’s becoming quite valuable to the Center and I think paring her with Harmony might help them both with direction a bit. Courtney has the grit and Harmony has the schooling, so they’d make a great team.
I can’t help but notice Gail and Ms. Solomon whispering to each other. I don’t want to feel self-conscious about it, but what’s with the whispering?
Just in case they are talking about me or something that I don’t need to hear, I gobble the last bit of my breakfast bagel, pick up my gourmet coffee and my phone, and slide out of the stool at the breakfast bar. I make my way down to my office and stand in the doorway, looking at the space. Earth tones are good, but the over-abundance of wood darkens the room and overtakes the beautiful natural light in here. The bookshelves look overpowering and boxed-in. I need to have them ripped out or redone… how long will that take?
I sit down at my desk and start strolling through Google for ideas for my office. I’m sure that the bookshelves are going to have to go, so I text Marilyn to get in touch with the contractor who did my office at the Center. If she’s already on her way to Helping Hands, she can work wherever her butt lands. No use in making her drive to the Crossing if she’s already there.
“I can come to the house, it’s not a problem.” She called me after getting my text.
“I thought you would be at the Center already by now,” I say.
“I’m in my car—a few minutes down the I-5 and across the bridge and I’m there. Do you need anything on the way?” She sounds agitated.
“Um, no. I’ll… see you when you get here.” She ends the call abruptly, causing me to look at the phone like it just bit me.
What the hell was that all about?
Deciding not to spend too much energy on whatever bug is up Marilyn’s butt, I call Vee and explain my concerns about the interview and the topic of my sexual misconduct accusations.
“Ana, the interview covered it fine,” she assures me. “You totally made the point that you needed to make. The charges are false; the claims were made anonymously and not by the supposed victim; the board treated you like shit and then disavowed any responsibility for their actions. You want people to take notice, but anything more is going to be overkill. Leave it like it is.”
“If you’re sure,” I say, still not certain that we’ve covered enough ground on the topic.
“I’m positive,” she says. “This is what I do. If it doesn’t pick up momentum all on its own, which I suspect that it will, we’ll revisit it, okay?” I sigh. She’s the expert.
“Okay, fine,” I cede. “Can you transfer me to legal? I want to talk to Al.” She’s silent for a moment.
“May I ask about what?” What the fuck?
“Um, since when do I have to have your clearance to speak to my best friend?” I nearly bark. “Or to my head of legal?”
“Ana, no! Don’t take it that way,” she interjects. “You were just talking to me about the interview and the sexual misconduct charges, then you immediately turned around and asked to speak to Allen. I thought the two were related and since one of those is a media situation and I am the head of PR, I thought it was something I needed to know. Nothing more.” I shake my head.
“I’m a little wired, Vee,” I tell her. “Christian’s acting strange. Jason’s bumped-up security, which is something he never does lightly. So, I know something’s going on and if you know, you can’t tell me because of your NDA. I have a friend of the family who’s having some trouble—which is why I want to speak to Al—and my assistant is acting all snippy. The whole thing is irritating me and it’s really starting to mess with my Feng Shui!” Vee is silent for a moment.
“I’m… sorry… I’ll get Al for you.” And she’s gone. Jesus, this negativity all around me has to fucking go! It’s driving me absolutely crazy!
“What’s up, Jewel?” Al answers. “Vee says you sound a bit perturbed.”
“I’m fine,” I nearly hiss. “Any word on Harmony’s situation.”
“What about it?” he asks. Et tu, Allen?
“I asked you if she had any recourse against her snaky husband trying to wait out Tina’s death so that he can weasel in on her inheritance and I haven’t heard anything from you!” I snap.
“Chris didn’t tell you?” he asks. Well, that explains a lot.
“Well, I haven’t spoken to Chris!” I say sarcastically. “I haven’t even seen him since he left for work yesterday.”
“Are you two fighting again?” Al asks cautiously.
“No!” I retort angrily. “He’s just in a mood about something that’s going on down there.”
“Nothing’s going on down here,” he replies. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”
“No, it’s going on—you just don’t know about it… or you can’t tell me,” I correct myself. Al sighs.
“Jewel, there’s nothing going on that I know of. If there were, I could tell you, because you’re one of the owners. Unless there’s information that I’m specifically directed not to share, the NDA doesn’t apply to you…”
“Like when Christian went to Madrid,” I point out. He sighs.
“Yes, like when Christian went to Madrid,” he replies.
“So, like I said, something’s going on down there. You may not know about it, but something’s going on. Now… about Harmony please?” It’s time to change the subject before I start to get angry about secrets.
“Harmony’s inheritance is safe,” he says. “It’s protected assets. Her husband can’t lay any claim to the money unless she put the money in a joint account and comingled it while they were still married. As long as anything she receives isn’t mixed with their marital assets, he can’t get to it. He was probably leading her to believe that so that she would pay him off to go away. And the fact that her attorney was actually working for him explains why she didn’t know this.”
That’s exactly what I was prepared to do, too—pay his ass off.
“So, why did Christian hear about this and I didn’t when I’m the one who came to you with it?”
“Because Christian came to me yesterday and asked me about it. I told him what I found out and he said that he was going to see Tina last night and asked if he could be the one to tell her and Harmony the good news. I assumed he told you, too. I don’t see why he wouldn’t.”
I forgot he went to Tina’s last night, but he didn’t even try to find me when he got home. I could tell that he took a shower, but he just went to his study after that.
“I don’t know what’s going on with Mr. Grey,” I say under my voice.
“Well, I can tell you this,” Al says. “Something’s happening at Tina’s because he took an entire security team over there this morning, complete with IT techs.” I frown.
“IT techs?” I repeat. “What the hell is going on over there that they need IT techs?”
“I don’t know, but him, Jason, and a whole shitload of people and equipment are at Tina Franklin’s right now. He told me to be ready, but he hasn’t said for what.”
“Is Alex with him?” I ask.
“No, Alex is here.” Good.
“Will you be representing Harmony in her divorce?”
“No, Jewel. I don’t do divorce. It’s my understanding that Carrick has agreed to do it, though.”
“Okay, thanks for the info. Transfer me to Alex.” There’s silence.
“Jewel, please don’t harass that man about what’s going on at Tina’s,” Al begs. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“I’m not going to harass him about anything,” I say. “Can you transfer me to him please?” Al sighs and I hear the hold music while I’m transferred to Alex.
“Alex Welch,” he answers.
“Alex, it’s Ana. I need some information.”
“What kind of information?” he asks.
“I need a background check and current contact information for someone, but I don’t know his name.”
“That’s a problem,” he says. “I do need to know who I’m looking for.”
“Well, I know who he is—I just don’t know his name. It’s Harmony Franklin’s soon-to-be-ex-husband. I don’t even know her married last name. Franklin is her maiden name.”
“Franklin?” he asks. “The same Franklin whose house we’re combing right now?”
“You’re combing her house? Why?” I ask.
“The boss went to see her last night and J got feedback in his earpiece. That means the house is bugged. We’re just trying to find out where, who, how long, why… you get the idea.”
“Seriously?” I say. “Who would want to bug Tina Franklin?”
“She’s not the only one who lives in the house,” he says.
“Do you think Harmony did it?” I ask.
“We won’t know until we find the bugs,” he says. I shake my head. I hope it wasn’t Harmony, or this campaign I’m about to begin will be all for naught.
“Can you get me the information on her ex-husband?” I ask.
“It might take a day,” he warns.
“That’s fine. I’m in no hurry,” I tell him.
“Very well.” We end the call. I raise my eyes to see that Marilyn has joined me.
“Have a seat,” I say, gesturing to one of the chairs in front of my desk that will soon be replaced. She marches in and sits in the chair like a petulant child. Okay…
“Did you call the contractor?” I ask.
“I just got here!” she replies snippily.
“Well,” I say, gearing myself for battle, “You were standing there in the door looking at me like you were awaiting instruction, and since I had already given you that instruction before you got here, I assumed you already did it!”
“I was in the car when you called. Did you expect me to speak to the contractor while I was in the car when you knew I was already on my way over here?”
What the fuck is this? I told her she didn’t have to bring her ass over here in the first place and now she’s acting like it’s some kind of fucking inconvenience? I don’t have time for this shit! I fold my hands in front of me. She can be snippy on her own time.
“Maybe you should take the day off,” I say, removing my glasses. Marilyn glares at me.
“Are you firing me?” she says in shock.
“Are you quitting?” I shoot back.
“I didn’t ask for the day off!” she snaps. “I’m just asking if you’re letting me go!”
“Take. The day. Off. Marilyn,” I say, slowly and firmly. “In fact, take two and get your shit together!”
She glares at me but knows that if she quips at me one more time, she won’t have to ask if she’s being fired. She stands haughtily, turns on her heels, and marches to the door.
“And Marilyn,” I call to her. She stops. “Take a damn test. You’re pregnant.” She turns slowly to me.
“I don’t need you to tell me what to do with my personal life!” she shoots.
“Or don’t!” I shoot back. “Wait ‘til your stomach blows up to the size of a basketball before you’re willing to accept that you’re with child. Just leave that nasty ass attitude at the door, or don’t bother coming in Monday, either!”
She stands there looking at me for a long time before she turns and indignantly walks out the door.
I may have just lost my assistant, because if she is pregnant and she keeps it, there’s going to be no working with her like this.
I scroll through my contacts on the cloud and find the name of the contractor who did the work on my office. I could call Elliot, but he’s doing the Miller home and I wouldn’t want to set him back for something this small. I’m not looking for an overhaul. I’m just looking for a fresh coat of paint and to revamp my bookshelves… and I’m back on the phone.
Once I tell the guy what I want, he tells me that he can have the work done in a day if the space is clear.
The space is not clear.
I make an appointment for him to come over this afternoon to see the office, then I call a moving company. I need all the items in my office packed up, and some of them shipped… where? Charity? The Goodwill?
Helping Hands. I’ll donate the furniture to Helping Hands.
The soonest the movers can get here is tomorrow. Great. The almighty Anastasia Grey can’t get everything she wants. I call Christian’s office.
“Christian Grey’s office. Andrea Fairchild speaking.” Just who I needed.
“Andrea, hi, it’s Ana Grey.”
“Hello, Mrs. Grey.” My teeth grind. I want to say, “Call me Ana,” but I know that years of training will prevent that from happening. “Mr. Grey is out of the office right now…”
“Oh, I’m not calling to speak to Mr. Grey. Andrea, I have a strange request. Does GEH have a temp agency or pool that they use when they need extra administrative help?”
“You mean like executives?” she asks.
“No, like assistants,” I clarify.
“Oh! Well, it depends on who it is,” she says. “If it’s a project that needs extra hands in one of the non-classified departments, we may use a temp agency. If it’s one of the departments that handle more sensitive information, like legal, accounting, or R&D… or Mr. Grey… we commandeer one of the more-trained assistants on site.” I nod. That makes sense.
“I need an assistant for a couple of days.” I tell her. “It may be longer, I don’t know, but for right now, it’s just a couple of days. Marilyn’s indisposed and I pretty much need someone that’s just going to be underfoot, kind of at my beck and call.”
“Will they be coming to your home?” she asks.
“Today, definitely. Tomorrow, maybe. If not, they’ll be coming with me to Helping Hands. I need somebody very professional and very well-trained.”
“I’m sorry to say that I don’t think we have anybody in-house that I would be comfortable sending to your home, Mrs. Grey. Although we have a stringent vetting process, this is the boss’s mansion we’re talking about. No matter how professional, these women… wait a minute…” She pauses mid-sentence. “Luma would fit the bill. She’s probably the only one that would fit the bill.”
“Oh, no, I can’t take one of Christian’s assistants,” I say.
“I’m Mr. Grey’s assistant. Luma is my assistant. I can get one of the assistants in-house to take her place while she’s gone. If it turns out to be more long-term, then we can post a position with our usual recruiters and get you someone… I hope Marilyn’s okay.”
“I’m not at liberty to say. Please find out if Luma is okay with this. I don’t want her to feel like she’s being shuffled about like a board piece.” I can hear her saying something to someone in the background before coming back to the phone.
“Luma’s happy to help. She’s on her way now.”
“Thank you, Andrea. I hope not to keep your right-hand girl for too long.” After a few pleasantries, I end the call with Andrea and begin to pack the books in my office.
“How many?” I ask Tibbs when he comes to me with an update.
“Seven, sir, just in the library, and there’s a feed going somewhere. We picked up the digital transmission—we just haven’t found out where it’s planted and where it’s going. I’m going to have to call back to Barney to get special equipment for that.”
Seven bugs in the library. Seven fucking recording devices. Why do they even need that many for one room?
“Why so many?” I ask. “How big is the library?”
“Pretty big, sir,” he says. “They’re cheap technology—not the state of the art. They would have needed one for every twenty feet or so to get a good transmission.”
“Wouldn’t they have interfered with each other, like they did with Tina’s hearing aid and Jason’s earpiece?”
“Well, keep in mind. Tina’s hearing aid is high-tech, much like Taylor’s earpiece. They pick up sounds and frequencies from longer distances. Comparing these devices with Tina’s and Taylor’s technology would be like comparing a professional singer’s cordless mic to a speakerphone.”
Jesus! If it’s that important to bug somebody, wouldn’t you think they’d spend a little money?
“Could these be decoys?” I ask. “Hide the junk in plain view so that we don’t go looking for the state of the art stuff?” Tibbs shrugs.
“They could, but when it comes to audio equipment, we’ve got the tools to find the jewels and the junk, and so far, we’ve only found the junk.”
“And the visual?” I press.
“We’ll be able to close in on that when I get Barney on the phone.” I nod.
“You may want to consider doing shifts,” I tell him. “I don’t want you all to leave until every device is located.”
“Yes sir.” He goes back to work and I ascend the stairs to Tina’s room. I hear raised voices inside—Harmony’s and Roger’s. I step to the door and open it. Their conversation is so heated that they don’t even notice when I enter the room
“I told you to leave my mother alone with this! You’re upsetting her! You were told to do what I say, and you don’t seem to understand that I can fire you!” Harmony chides.
“Ms. Tina, they’re destroying the house. It’s a complete shambles. You have to make them stop this right now!” Roger is completely ignoring Harmony’s request and Tina looks exhausted.
“Jason, get up here right now,” I say into the earpiece that I’m wearing, now also getting feedback since I’m in Tina’s room. I step inside and make my way over to them.
“I said leave her alone!” Harmony demands again. “And get the hell out of her room. You’re going to drive her to her death faster by stressing her out like this!” Roger straightens his back and faces off with Harmony.
“I don’t have to take orders from you, little girl!” he hisses. I’m behind Harmony in moments.
“That’s a grown woman, not a little girl and yes, you do!” I exclaim. He doesn’t take down. In fact, he’s haughtier than ever.
“Who do you think you are—coming in here like you’re running things, ripping her home to shreds like garbage? Have you no respect?” I move Harmony behind me and step to Roger’s face.
“Get out, now!” I hiss. He raises his nose to me.
“I will not!” he declares. “You can’t make me go anywhere, and I don’t have to do anything you say.” The interference in my earpiece stops and Tina reacts with slight relief. I know this means the scrambler is active. I look over Roger’s shoulder and Jason steps into the room. I look at Roger again.
“Get. Out. Now!” I growl getting right in his face. I could strangle this worm, but I don’t know if there are cameras in here. His fear is now palpable, but he regains himself quickly. Just as he’s about to speak, Jason comes behind him and whispers in his ear.
“I and my men have ways of seriously hurting people that don’t leave evidence.” Roger turns a horrified, pale face to Jason. “Are you going to come quietly, or should we demonstrate?”
“You… you can’t hurt me. There are other people here—downstairs, all over the house. People will see you…” Roger stutters.
“Everybody downstairs works for me or him. Everybody else had the good sense to leave when we told them to, except you. Now are you coming quietly, or do you need persuasion?” Roger looks from Jason to me and then to Tina.
“Ms. Tina…” he begins.
“I think he needs persuading,” I tell Jason. Jason closes in.
“Don’t touch me I’ll go!” Roger retorts, trying to hide his fear. He walks out of the room where another of my security staff is waiting for him.
“Don’t let him out of your sight,” Jason says. “I’ll be down in a minute to chat.” The guard takes his arm and Roger flinches away from him.
“Snatch that arm away from me again and I’ll break it!” I hear him say before he escorts Roger away. I turn to Jason.
“Do you have a scrambler on you?” I ask. He frowns.
“Don’t you?” he says. I shake my head. He takes a small device out of his jacket pocket and hands it to me.
“No cell service while you have it. This is how you turn it off.”
“Good man. This room needs to be swept soon. She spends too much time in here.” Jason frowns.
“That’s going to be very inconvenient for her,” he says.
“How much of the house is done—for audio?”
“Almost all of the first floor,” he says. “We’re trying to get Barney’s second team here quickly because it’s a whole new sweep for the visual.”
“Tell me, what are you talking about?” Tina’s frail voice says. “Are you destroying my house like Roger says?” That fucker. He’s got her all worried when we’re only doing this for her protection. I need to talk to her alone for a minute—even without Harmony.
“Harmony, does she have a nurse here?” I ask.
“I can get one, quickly,” she says.
“Good. Get her one. Have them check her vitals and make sure she’s okay. I’ll sit with her while you go. You won’t have cell service in here.” She looks at her phone.
“You’re right,” she says. “I’ll be right back, Mom,” she says touching Tina’s hand before leaving.
“Aunt Tina,” I say, kneeling down to her, “I swear to you, we’re not destroying your house. Remember we talked about the reason your hearing aid stops humming, right?” Tina nods. “Well, we found seven audio recording devices in your library. Someone is listening to and recording what’s happening in your home. We just don’t know why they’re recording.”
“Oh, no,” she says, forlorn. “This can’t be.”
“Roger’s been jumping around like a bunny on speed ever since my men got here,” I tell her. “He has already damaged two major pieces of equipment, claiming it was an accident, and he’s been up here more times than I know trying to get you to call this off. Is he normally this intolerable?”
“Never,” she says. “It’s like he’s completely inconsolable…” like a kid who doesn’t want you to see a bad report card.
“What about Harmony?” I ask. “How has she been through this process?”
“Calm, for the most part, except when he comes in and starts demanding that I make you all stop what you’re doing. That’s the only time she gets upset.”
“How has she been since she’s been home?” I ask. Tina shrugs.
“Attentive. She’s been… Harmony. Roger’s been antsy. I just attributed it to the fact that he knows that I’m going to die soon, and the house will go to Harmony.” My eyes widen.
“He knows that?” I ask. Tina nods. “How does he know that? Have you revealed the content of your will to him already?” She frowns.
“I don’t recall, Christian,” she says. “I don’t think so. I thought maybe Carl said something to him…”
“Who’s Carl?” I ask.
“My attorney,” she says. I shake my head.
“Carl can’t say anything to him. It’s against the law. When did you last tweak your will?” She has to think about it.
“About a month ago,” she says. “Maybe a little longer. It was right before your sister’s wedding… a few weeks maybe. I just gotten the news about… you know. Harmony was the only one who came back. She had already moved out of the house from her husband—she didn’t have to come back, but she was the only one who did. When I heard that she was coming, I called Carl and updated my will. I think I did it right before she got here. I told Roger that she was coming and to prepare her room. I told him what I was doing… that I was updating my will, but I don’t remember discussing the contents with him. I do remember him voicing some concern at one time about what would happen to the house once ‘that girl got her hands on it.’ Harmony is the only one of my children that he calls ‘that girl.’”
So, Roger knows about the will. Unless Carl is pure smut and broke attorney/client privilege, we know who’s listening to the bugs.
“Where and when did you have this conversation with Carl?” I ask. “In here?”
“Of course, not!” Aunt Tina replies. “A lady doesn’t entertain a gentleman in her bedroom… except now,” she jests, pointing to me and Jason. “No, I always accept Carl in the li… brary. Oh, dear.”
Oh, dear is right. Harmony wasn’t here yet when Tina changed her will, but that library had to already be bugged. Harmony and Roger are like oil and water and unless they’re the best actors known to man, they can’t be working together on this. Yet, Roger knew the contents of her will before she made anything public.
Just as Tina and I are both putting this information together, we hear glass breaking downstairs. I look at Jason, who looks at me and we both make to move towards the door when we’re distracted by Harmony’s small form.
“Um, Christian?” I hear Harmony’s voice in the doorway. “The nurse is on her way to check Mom out, but I think there’s a problem downstairs with Roger… a pretty big one.”
A/N: Fredo Corleone is from The Godfather. Fredo wanted to have the power of the Godfather and felt that he should have risen into the role before Michael Corleone since Fredo was the older brother, but Fredo was weak and irresponsible and his father knew that Fredo couldn’t handle being Godfather. Sunset compares Aragon to Fredo Corleone because of a dumb move Fredo did inviting a bunch of girls to Michael’s room in Vegas when Michael was there to discuss business. Fredo was throwing around weight he didn’t have, and this was the beginning of the rift between the brothers that eventually cost Fredo his life.
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