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 58—Nobody Messes With the Greys
My head of legal may have taken the day off today, but I don’t always enjoy such luxuries. He and my wife were enjoying breakfast when I left this morning while I have three meetings before noon, not to mention that three of Pops’ classic cars are on their way out west today and I had to make sure they were properly insured and secured for the trip. I had my personal shipping department make the special arrangements to get them safely on the west coast. If all goes as planned, they should be here by the end of the week.
Smalls has sent me an organized listing of the remaining items in the storage facility and in each of the bins. Unfortunately, it took the entire weekend to organize and identify everything and another day to get the cars into their own units. It turns out that we didn’t need to arrange for another unit considering that three or four of them would be empty once the cars are shipped. Smalls made the executive decision not to put the cars in a unit by themselves since his team was working endlessly to get the items sorted and someone would always be there anyway.
I have Luma and Andrea come and help me decipher all the items. There’s so much stuff! Antique furniture—the good stuff—china, knickknacks, keepsakes… Uncle Herman is going to have a bit of a job on his hands. This turned out to be a massive undertaking. Had I not had the resources that I do, it would have taken Uncle Herman years to sort it all out and would have cost him a fortune.
“There’s a lifetime worth of stuff in those storage bins,” Uncle Herman says when I talk to him on Tuesday afternoon. “Six lifetimes, in fact… at least!”
“Where do you think you’d want to start?” I ask. I hear my uncle sigh.
“I have no idea,” he admits. “The jewelry and investments Dad had in that safe deposit box are worth a fortune. The brothers are all at a point where we’ve made our fortunes and lived our lives, not to mention the money tree Dad left us in his life insurance policy. So, I’m just thinking that I’ll split the items in the safe deposit box among his grandchildren. That’s been a daunting task in an of itself right there.”
“Well, at least one of his grandchildren has made his fortune, too, so you don’t have to worry about me,” I say.
“Well, maybe something personal,” Uncle Herman says. “A keepsake from your grandfather, maybe a family heirloom or something… or something nice for Ana?” I smile at my uncle’s generosity.
“I think that’s a great idea, Uncle Herman. Thank you,” I reply. He sighs heavily.
“You all accepted me so warmly,” he says, his voice thick with emotion. “You didn’t even know who I was. It had been years since we talked to Rick. Years. You would have been completely within your rights to be assholes just like Freeman… but you didn’t. On your wedding day—your day—you accepted me and my father into your heart as if we had been here all along. Your love and kindness never faded, never failed. You invited us to everything, made us feel at home…”
His voice cracks as he tries to explain how he—and probably Pops—felt when they first got here.
“My father was so happy,” he says through his tears. “He was so happy to be here, so happy to see Rick and his family. And you guys were so wonderful to us,” he sobs. Now I know how it feels to just want to hug someone and can’t.
“We were secluded in Detroit… it was just me and Dad in that big house. Stan was so busy trying to take care of his family and… well, you already know about Freeman. The grandkids were in school or in college, just trying to do their thing and live their lives, too. Not really time for an old dying grandpa. It sounds cold, I know, but Dad understood that’s just the way it is sometimes. But when we got here…” His voice trails off again and he takes a moment to compose himself.
“Gracie was wonderful—checking in on Dad all the time and asking me if I needed any help, getting a nurse set up to come by the house and help out so that I could have a break. And Luma… oh, Luma, how could I not fall in love with that woman? She was at his side nearly every waking moment. I don’t know how she did it with her job and the kids, and she took care of me, too. She held my hand and listened when I cried about knowing that I was losing my Dad… losing my very best friend…”
He sobs again. I don’t dare interrupt him. Seeing those manifests that I emailed to him has opened the floodgates and he just needs to let it out.
So, I let him.
“My family is so important to me,” he continues, still crying, “my children, my nieces and nephews—Freeman, too. Asshole that he is, he’s still my brother, and if he were to ever see the err of his ways, I would be right there for him in a heartbeat… we all would—Stan, Rick, and me—even though it’s hard for us to admit it right now. And even Shannon, my children’s mother. She gave me three beautiful children and I was a heel for what I put her through, but she stuck in there with our children… and she forgave me. Our marriage didn’t survive it, but she still forgave me, and that’s what’s most important.
When I came out here and saw all of you… and saw Anastasia… and she looked just like my Shannon, it was a sign that I was home. Shannon was everything that was good and right in my life and I fucked it up. But Ana showed me that Shannon wasn’t the end of my rainbow… that not only could her beauty be found outside of my little mourning circle, but also her kindness and her love… and like an angel falling from heaven as the manifestation of all those things—love, beauty, kindness, and my rainbow—here came Luma… to hold me up during the worst time of my life, one of them anyway.
“I… I just want to say that you are the true meaning of family,” Uncle Herman says, trying to pull himself together. “This whole story could have been so different… but thank you, Christian… Thank you for being my family. I’m proud that you carry the Grey name, and if you take some of these keepsakes—these mementos, whatever you like—to give to your wife, or pass down to your children, or keep for yourself, I would be so honored, and I know my dad would, too.”
Well, how can you turn that down?
“I’m the one who’s honored, Uncle Herman,” I tell him. “I come from unimaginable beginnings, and to be welcomed into a family like this is more than anyone could hope for. I’m sure my wife would love to have some things to pass down to our children and items to take a place of honor in our home.”
“That would make me very happy. I’m sorry I dumped on you, Christian,” he says.
“Uh-uh, Uncle Herman, don’t you dare,” I chide gently. “This is what family is for. It took me a long time and a good woman to understand that, but now I know. I’m here… we’re all here… for whatever you need.”
“I know, son,” he says softly. “A good woman…” he adds contemplatively. “Yeah.”
I suggest to Uncle Herman that we get the emails of all the grandchildren and send the list of things that are up for distribution. Anything that anyone wants immediately, they can have. Any unsolved disputes will be handled by a live “wheel-decide” so that no one can say that any favoritism is at play. We’ll have one once a week via Skype or video chat until everyone gets something. There will, of course be other factors that decide who’ll get what, like if someone won “wheel-decide” last week, they may be eliminated from the next week’s raffle and so on.
“We can start deciding who will get what by the weekend,” I tell him. “This will give my guys a chance to come home and spend some time with their families. They’ve been in that God-forsaken place since just after we left.”
“Oh, Lord! Yes, bring them home by all means!” Uncle Herman says.
“I’ll have a member of my shipping clerks here tweak the spreadsheet with all the items in storage and be in charge of tracking who gets what and where it will need to be shipped. Hopefully, everyone will get something they want, and they won’t be too much left to… dispose of.” I choose my word wisely. I can’t imagine throwing any of Pops’ things away.
“Yeah, I know,” Uncle Herman says, noting my hesitance. “I know exactly what you mean.” I nod as if he can see me.
“I’ll get the word to my guys to close up shop for now,” I tell him. “I’ll have them prepare to go back next Monday to start distributing anything that someone has laid claim to.”
“Good deal, Christian. Thanks for helping me with this and… thanks for listening to me blubbering.” I chuckle a bit.
“Anytime, Uncle Herman. Anytime.”
I end the call and call down to the shipping department with instructions of what I’ll be needing and to send someone up to discuss the requirements with me this afternoon. Then I call Smalls and tell him to shut down shop for the week and come home. I could hear the relief in his voice even though he tries to hide it. I inform him that I want the same guys on the job next week—no substitutes. These people have been privy to a very private part of my life and I don’t want anyone else handling the situation.
I’ll also know who to hold responsible if anything goes awry.
New locks are placed on the storage units in the facility and Smalls is given travel arrangements for his team to come home. It’s easier and faster to get them commercial flights home than it is to send the jet.
“We’ve begun a second search of the house, sir,” Jason says, as he and Barney step into my office later that afternoon. “I’ve got every entrance covered and believe it or not, there were a few trap doors we needed to make sure were inaccessible. We never would have found them without the blueprints.”
Thank God for those, I think to myself, and immediately remember Alex referring to himself as God.
“What about any leads to where the recordings and videos were stored?” I ask.
“If there’s any evidence of any recording activity that we didn’t find last week, we’re not finding it now, either,” Jason says.
“To be honest, Mr. Grey,” Barney interjects, “that stuff went to someone’s IP address. It’s like having the low-tech cameras that monitor your home and the footage is sent directly to your phone. Either your boy Jeeves has footage saved to a hard-drive or to his phone or in the Cloud somewhere, or that footage is just gone.”
I sigh. There’s no use in ransacking Tina’s home anymore if we’re not going to find anything.
“You’re sure we’ve removed all the listening and recording devices from her home?” I ask. They both nod.
“Yes, sir, the house is definitely clean,” Jason says.
“Okay,” I cede. “Make sure that team leaves her house spotless—today. Get a professional cleaning team in there if you have to. Make sure there’s a full security detail at that house until further notice. Harmony will be able to hire her own later if she wants, but right now, there’s too much on her mind.”
“There’s something else, sir,” Jason says as Barney leaves. I raise a brow at him. “Our guy on Carter says that he left his job for lunch and is waiting for a rendezvous at the Fairmont.”
“Is that right?” I ask. No doubt, to touch bases with Roger. “Any way we can get eyes and ears on that?”
“We’re already on it,” he says. “I’ve sent back-up with a bug—a tie cam—and a date to stay close to Carter. Roger’s guy has a room at the hotel to keep suspicion off him. He’s already in the restaurant waiting for him.”
“Why didn’t he stay on Roger?” I ask. “The worm might give him the slip!”
“Intelligence indicates that Roger called this meeting. He’s running out of options and unless he contacted his cohort while we weren’t looking, Carter doesn’t know the gig is up yet.”
“Well, that’s going to be a bit of a revelation, isn’t it?” I laugh. “Can you explain the date thing? I can’t imagine our guy can pay much attention with a date present.”
“Renshaw and Gallows… definitely not a couple,” he clarifies.
“Oh,” I reply. “Can we get a live feed, or do we have to wait until it’s over?”
“I can check,” he says, typing into his phone. I can’t help but wonder what Butterfly is doing right now. Did she work at home again? She could have stayed home because Allen was there. He certainly didn’t come in today—not even late. So, I imagine that he’s still relaxing at the Crossing.
I scan my “tips” resources online while I’m waiting for Jason and see that Sheldon Manufacturing is now courting Capito Industries. I laugh to myself. Sheldon is maybe fair to midland on the corporate map, and this acquisition is sure to drag him down into the trenches. I could warn him off Capito, but I decide against it. First off, if that worm Capito stays out of my business, I’ll stay out of his. Second, every company needs to do its own due diligence before they make a deal. I did mine; Sheldon better fucking well do his, too, though Capito is probably smarter on what to avoid now.
I wonder if Sheldon is sympathetic to his plight? You never know what someone is into… but that’s none of my business.
I really miss my wife. Maybe it was that sentimental conversation with Uncle Herman, I don’t know, but I suddenly have the urge to talk to my Butterfly. Just as I’m reaching for my phone, the wall opens behind me and the monitor comes alive.
I guess my Butterfly talk will have to wait.
“Showtime,” Jason says with a remote in his hand. “Roger hasn’t gotten there yet, but Renshaw says that Carter just got a call and he should be there any minute.”
The screen comes alive with a picture of who I assume is Kenneth Carter sitting at a table alone in the oyster bar inside the Fairmont Olympic. He’s eating prawns and calamari—with his fingers—like he hasn’t a care in the world. Where did this guy come from?
Use a fork, you caveman! You’re in a public place… where other people are trying to eat.
“Oh, we’ve got a real winner here,” I say aloud, watching him shovel prawn cocktail and handfuls of calamari into his mouth like he’s eating at a college bonfire.
He’s an average-looking guy, I guess, nothing menacing or remarkable. Yet, Harmony is fragile with one very fatal flaw. She’s starving for the love and attention that she didn’t get from her bio-dad, and she’ll latch onto any member of the male gender that’ll show her said attention. She can’t be saved from that—she has to save herself, or she’s going to fall into the same traps with guys like this for the rest of her life, especially with her money.
“Let me know when he’s done with that cocktail,” I say. I can’t watch the uncouth any longer.
“Sir,” Alex sticks his head in the door. I wave him in. “I’ve got the preliminary family tree for Mrs. Franklin,” he says pointing to my laptop. “I emailed the tree, but here’s some additional information that came in.”
“Anything alarming?” I ask as I take the manila envelope from his hand.
“Not particularly,” I say, “although Harmony’s biological father—who is now technically her nephew—has a string of gambling debts. He’s in deep to a really bad guy. I wouldn’t be surprised if he came after the family for a piece of the pie… or revenge.” I raise my eyes to him.
“You know who he is?” I ask. Alex half shrugs.
“Somewhat,” he says. “I mean, I don’t hang in his crowd, but I know of him.”
“Do you know of him enough to make him stay the hell away from Harmony and Tina?” I ask. “Or I should ask does he know of you.”
“Not of me, but I know some people,” Alex replies.
“Well, talk to whomever you need to,” I say. “He wants to collect from his mark, he can do that, but he stays the fuck away from Tina and Harmony. Make it happen.”
“Yes, sir,” Alex says as I remove the contents of the envelope.
“Sir?” Jason says, garnering my attention. When I raise my head, he’s pointing the monitor. Roger is taking a seat next to Carter. Roger still looks like he was on the wrong end of a prize fight. The background checks will have to wait.
“Jesus, man! What the hell happened to your face?” Ken asks, examining Roger like an alien. “Are you missing a tooth?”
“I had a run-in with an asshole,” he says. I chuckle at his description. He’s the asshole, here—taking advantage of a dying woman and her grieving daughter.
“Look, I got you all the information that I could about Tina’s fortune. You know what she’s worth and how she plans to distribute the money once she’s gone. Now, what can you do with it?”
“What do you mean what can I do? You’ve given me absolutely nothing! You haven’t given me anything concrete,” Ken retorts. “I agreed to help you if I could get something on my bitch of a wife, but you haven’t given me anything I can use on either one of ‘em! Poor little Harmony crying over her dying mommy—no men coming in and out of the house, nothing to use for blackmail, I can’t even hack into the accounts. I don’t have any bank account numbers, no credit card information… You’re in charge of the finances. How can you not have access to this stuff?”
“I’ve lost all my access,” Roger bites. “You told me you could do this! You told me you could clean them out before and after that old bat was dead if I got you access to the house. Now, you’re telling me you can’t? You had audio and visual. What the hell else did you need?”
“Had?” Ken says. “What do you mean had? What the fuck happened, Roger? We don’t have the videos and shit anymore? And what do you mean by you lost your access? What the hell is going on—and what the fuck really happened to your face?”
“Grey happened to my face!” Roger snaps. “I’ve been fired! I don’t know who said what to whom, but I’ve lost everything! I’ve lost access to the accounts, access to the house, and the bugs have all been discovered—every last one of them. Grey and his men came sauntering in there last week and swept the place of everything I planted! Everything! There’s nothing left! I don’t even have access to that backup dummy fund where I was stashing my nest egg because that’s in her name, too! Nothing, Roger! I’ve got nothing!”
“Wait a minute. You’re telling me that your slosh fund was in the old lady’s name? Why the hell did you do that? Why didn’t you move the money?”
“I was going to move it—after she died. If I did it then, there was no suspicion, but if I moved it before then, there could be questions. A large sum moved around after her death—not so obvious.”
“And now you don’t have any of it,” Ken says in disbelief. “And Grey did that to your face?” he asks.
“No, he had his minions do this!” Roger retorts, “but trust me, he could have done it himself.” Ken scoffs.
“Figures,” he remarks as he stands and shakes his head. “I met his wife—last week while you were being raided for all that surveillance equipment that I’m never going to get back—tiny little, bad-ass bitch that I’m not fucking with. You’re on your own. I’m out of this shit.”
“Wait, you can’t just leave me hanging like this! I wouldn’t have even done this if it wasn’t for you! I was going to get a cut of something from the old lady! I know I was. Now, I’ve lost everything because of you and you’re just going to leave me?”
“Where the hell were you last night?” Ken asks, leaning on the table and getting in Roger’s face. “Where the hell were you when that couple was on primetime network TV blowin’ shit up? Both of ‘em—gats and shotguns, just blowin’ shit up for fun. Where the fuck were you?
“That woman came to my fuckin’ job—strapped in one o’ those goddamn gats she was shootin’ on TV last night. She told me to leave Harmony the fuck alone and now her husband—or whoever—done beat da fuck outta you! You got a tooth missin’, man… a fuckin’ tooth. You know what that means? That means somebody hit you hard enough to dislodge part of your skeletal structure. Hell, no! Hell, no! I’m not fucking with these two. Why the hell didn’t you tell me that Christian Grey knew this family? That’s key information that I needed to know before I decided to step into this endeavor!”
“I didn’t know she knew the Greys,” Roger retorts. “But, hell, it’s not far-fetched. The rich know the rich.”
“And who else does she know?” Ken snaps. “Oprah Winfrey? The Walmart Family? The goddamn President? Lose my fucking number, Roger. If you mention my name in any capacity, I’m going to completely disavow knowledge of you. I mean it, man, you’re on your own.” Ken turns to leave.
“They already know about you,” Roger calls after him and Ken stops. “I told them everything about you. They know that you helped plant the bugs. They know that you were listening in to get blackmail evidence on Harmony.” Ken turns around slowly.
“But you didn’t tell them about you skimming money off the expense accounts,” he says, “or trying to convince the old lady to make you Power of Attorney so you could clean her out and put her out of her own house. They didn’t know about any of that, huh?”
Ken and Roger face off for a moment, two pussies trying to show which one is the bigger fish.
“Then I suggest you leave town,” Ken says coolly, “because if Grey comes for me, I’m coming for you, you little snitch.”
Roger’s ashen face reveals who’s the bigger fish. I watch as Ken stares at Roger for a moment, then leaves the bar. Roger pulls at his collar and looks around to see if anyone else caught the exchange. How he doesn’t see my guy recording him, I’ll never know, but he obviously didn’t. I guess he and his “date” must be putting on a good show. He stands and scurries out of the bar and I hear my guy notify someone that he’s headed in their direction.
I wonder if Ken paid for lunch before he left?
Part of me feels sorry for the guy. He’s pretty much lost everything he had—by his own fault, of course—and now, he’s pissed off his accomplice who also wants a piece of his ass. What happened to his weekly paychecks? Was that money locked up in the fraudulent account, too? Maybe that’s what he’s living off now, because he sure can’t be staying at the Fairmont for free and unless he has a family hiding somewhere that we don’t know about, he didn’t have any expenses. So, he hasn’t lost everything; it probably just feels like it because he lost a lot. Maybe I should just leave the man alone…
“Show’s over,” I hear someone say, and the screen goes black.
So, as it turns out, Roger and Carter’s plan was not well thought out and very elementary. They were trying to find a way to get Tina’s money, but they were also trying to find some evidence of Harmony cheating before the divorce is final.
“Hmm,” I say, looking at the documents for the Franklin background check. “Rats from a sinking ship.”
“Indeed,” Jason says. “Stay on ‘em?”
“Of course,” I confirm. “I don’t trust either one of them. Now, I’ve got to worry about a loan shark or some shit.”
Aunt Tina has no living siblings; four living children between the ages of 60 and 75; ten grandchildren between the ages of 25 and 45—one of which is Harmony’s bio-dad, Damien; and only two adult great-grandchildren in their 20’s. She also has four living nieces that haven’t been in touch in years and seven great-nieces and nephews that we can find—probably more. We haven’t even number great-great-nieces and nephews who may be around the same age as Harmony or as Tina’s great-grandchildren. These people are going to swarm Harmony like the attacking crows in The Birds. Jesus! If she wasn’t getting the house, I’d tell Harmony to leave town.
“Mr. Grey,” Andrea’s disembodied voice breaks my train of thought.
“Angenette Morello is here from shipping. She says you’re expecting her.” Who the hell is Angenette…? Oh! Yeah.
“Yes, send her in.” I put the information back into the manila envelope and put it in my desk drawer. “Alex, see what other information you can get on Tina’s family. This is good but check further down one generation—great-great-nieces and nephews. See if we can get detailed background checks on…”
My sentence trails off when the shipping clerk walks in. All legs, tight skirt, and tits damn near busting out of her blouse, oozing the vibe of the slutty secretary that’ll fuck you on your desk.
What the fuck is this? I told him that this was a personal and sensitive matter, and this is what he got from that? To send an undercover hooker to my office?
“Wait outside,” I snap. Jason and Alex move to leave.
“Not you two,” I say as Angenette gives me the come-hither look. “You.” I point to her. “Wait with my receptionist.”
She smiles and turns around, walking out the door that she just came in. Jason and Alex both turn disbelieving glares at me as I furiously call down to my shipping department.
“Who the hell did you send to my office?” I hiss into the phone.
“One… one of the best clerks we have, sir. You said this was important.”
“Get your ass up here, now!” I bark into the phone as I slam it down into the carriage. What the fuck? I told him this involved my family! I’m a married man with twins! There might be a need for a member of my family to speak to this clerk and he sends a fucking sexpot up here? What the fuck does he think he’s doing?
Quickly finding my footing, I go back to what I was saying to my security personnel
“Alex, see if you can get background checks on Tina’s children and on Harmony’s biological mother and father. You know this is time-sensitive, so pull out all the stops and get me all the information you can. We’ll worry about the others as the need arises. As for Roger and Carter, keep your eye on them and see what they do for the next few days—close surveillance.”
“Are we still looking to have a sit-down with Roger?” Jason asks.
“From the looks of things, I don’t think we could get anything useful out of him. I just want to see what he does.” Jason nods and I hear the elevator ring. This must be my soon-to-be unemployed head of shipping and receiving.
“What are you doing up here?” I hear him ask as his voice gets closer.
“I came to help Mr. Grey with his manifests,” Angenette says, her voice a bit shaky. I tilt my head to look out my door and she’s pulling at her skirt.
“No wonder he called me pissed off,” I hear him seethe. “Where’s Georgie?”
Just as he asks the question, I hear the elevator ding again.
“Mr….” I hear another female voice say. “Am I late?”
“You might be,” I hear him growl. “Have a seat over there. You… If I get fired because of your little stunt, you’re going with me, and I don’t care who your aunt is!”
Hmm, this is an interesting little soap opera playing out here. I hear a knock on my open office door. Jason rises and opens it further to reveal my very nervous head of shipping and receiving.
“Come in,” I say sternly. He steps nervously into my office. “Bring her with you.” He gestures behind him and a completely different woman walks into the office—clothes still way too tight, but a little more presentable than she was a moment ago.
“Well,” I begin, folding my hands on the desk in front of me, “your attire is still a size too small, but it appears that your skirt has lengthened two inches and you found use for that button at your bosom.” Angenette drops her gaze and I turn mine to my head of shipping. “Is this how your clerks dress on the shipping docks?” I bark.
“No, sir,” he replies. “She… well, first, she works in the office. And… no… she wasn’t dressed like that when she came to work this morning.” I turn back to the clerk.
“Had those clothes on tap for just such an emergency, Ms. Morello?” I ask. She doesn’t answer. She keeps her gaze to the ground and I can tell that she’s utterly humiliated. She should be.
“Um, sir?” Is he still talking? “Sir, she’s not the clerk I sent up here.” I raise my brow. This is interesting.
“Oh?” I ask. I had a feeling when I heard a second female get off the elevator, but I wasn’t sure.
“No, sir, I sent Georgina Tanner. She’s in your lobby now.” I turn to Ms. Morello.
“And why did you come?” I ask her. She doesn’t respond. “Your refusal to answer me is only going to piss me off, Ms. Morello. Your barely on the edge of the dress code—which you were not when you presented yourself to the happily married CEO of this company a few moments ago.” She still doesn’t speak. I see—if you don’t admit to anything, it didn’t happen. Not in my company. “Who is your aunt?”
That got her attention. Her head shoots up like a rocket and her mouth flies open, but nothing comes out.
“Who. Is. Your. Aunt?” I ask again. She drops her gaze again and doesn’t reply.
“Evangeline Simpson,” my department head says, “the employee relations HR liaison.” I nod.
“I see.” I stand and walk out to Andrea’s desk. “Andrea, see if Evangeline Simpson in HR is in today and get her up here now.”
“Yes, sir.” I stand at Andrea’s desk while she calls down to HR. While I’m standing there, I turn around to see another young woman sitting near the elevator with a tablet on her lap and scrolling through her phone—attractive as well, but much more appropriately dressed.
“Ms. Tanner?” I say. She raises her head quickly.
“Yes?… Mr. Grey?” she questions as she stands. “I’m sorry if I was late, sir, I just went to the ladies’ room…”
“It’s not a problem. I’ll be a few more minutes, then we can chat about what I’ll be needing,” I reply, gesturing for her to take her seat. She nods.
“Yes, sir,” she nods and sits. I go back to Andrea’s desk.
“Ms. Simpson is in a meeting right now, sir. I told her it was urgent…”
“Call her back,” I say. Andrea dials the number again.
“Ms. Simpson?” she says. I extend my hand to take the phone. Andrea hands it to me.
“Ms. Simpson, if you can answer the phone, that meeting is not that urgent. You have two minutes to be in my office and if you’re not here at the two-minute-one-second mark, I’ll show you just how urgent this is.” I turn to Andrea.
“Set a timer,” I say, just before I replace the receiver on the cradle. Andrea pushes a button on her watch and I lean against her desk and watch the elevators. We’re completely silent the entire time. You can almost hear the traffic outside several floors down. Moments later, the elevator dings and a well-dressed woman in a gray suit nearly tumbles out. She catches herself when she sees me and straightens her stance.
“Time,” I say, looking dead in her eyes.
“One thirty-nine, sir,” Andrea says.
“Thank you, Andrea. Ms. Simpson, in your entire employment, how many times have I called you to my office?”
“Once,” she says, “I think.”
“Exactly. So, when the owner of the company that you work for—the man that signs your checks—tells you that he needs to see you now, you make haste and get to the executive floor just like you did just now and maybe your entrance will be a little more graceful next time.” I gesture to my office and let her walk in before I move, because I know what’s going to happen when she clears the door.
Sure enough, she stops short right there inside the door when she sees her niece standing there. Had I walked in right behind her, I would have bumped right into the back of her.
“Ms. Simpson,” I say, reminding her that she’s blocking the door. She walks in and stands next to her niece, whose gaze is still downcast. Jason closes the door when I enter.
“Your niece, Ms. Morello, has taken the ‘admit nothing’ stance, but I must say that’s not going to help her in this situation,” I say as I take my seat behind my desk again.
“With all due respect, sir, I’m not certain why all these people need to be present for this meeting,” Ms. Simpson retorts confidently.
“With all due respect, Ms. Simpson, we’re short one person,” I reply. “You’re here because this is your niece, and I’m assuming from what I heard in the lobby that your position has somehow solidified her position in this company. Is there any truth to that?”
Not certain where I’m going with this line of questions, Ms. Simpson answers carefully.
“Well, I did recommend her for the position,” she says, cautiously.
“I see,” I reply folding my hands again. “So, the other reason you’re hear is because your niece has broken several GEH policies, and since she refuses to speak for herself, I’ll be glad to bring them to your attention.
“I called down to shipping and asked for a shipping clerk to handle a very serious matter that had to do with my family. I was very surprised to see Ms. Morello show up at my office dressed the way that she is.”
“But sir, her clothes are fitting, but she’s not dressed inappropriately,” Simpson argues.
“That’s where we disagree.” I stand and open the door. “Andrea…”
My PA comes in wearing a mustard blouse and a fitting pencil skirt.
“This is fitting, Ms. Simpson—neat, professional, appropriate,” I say, gesturing to Andrea. “That is bursting out at the seams,” I say, pointing at her niece. “This is the other person that should be in this meeting, because that woman stepped off the elevator, two less buttons fastened than she has right now with her breasts hanging out and that skirt at least two inches shorter than it is at the moment.
“My wedding made national news last year. Yet, she checked in with my receptionist—who announced her—and she proceeded to present herself to me and these two gentlemen with her goods on display like the cafeteria special! When her boss asked what she was doing here, she replied that she was coming to help me. When I ask what she’s doing here, since her boss didn’t send her, she suddenly becomes mute.
“I heard him say in the lobby that she would be fired if, and I quote, her little stunt cost his job and he didn’t care who her aunt was. So, I asked who her aunt was, and she became mute again. So, once again, I’ll ask if your position somehow solidifies her position.”
“Well,” Simpson is fishing for words. “No, as I said, I just recommended her for the job.”
“Hmm,” I say, “you should be more careful of your recommendation in the future. Not only did she present herself to me inappropriately in a very common manner, but she’s on the executive floor without clearance or permission. She was not sent to assist me. Ms. Tanner was. I’ve yet to ascertain how or why she even knew I needed assistance and why she took it upon herself to come to my office. As she has nothing to say in her defense the points are all moot, now.”
“Um, Mr. Grey,” Simpson begins, “please, if you would, consider that this is Ms. Morello’s first offense of any kind and allow the reprimand to fit the situation.” I raise my brow at her.
“Oh, I intend to allow the reprimand to fit the situation, Ms. Simpson, but you’re mistaken. This isn’t her first offense. Her first offense—insubordination—was committed when she somehow became privy to classified information given to her supervisor and took it upon herself to act on it. Her second offense—breach of security—was committed when she came to the executive floor without permission. Her third offense—dress code violation—is obvious. However, her fourth offense is the biggest one of all.” I grab the picture of my wife and my children and turn it around for them to see.
“Do you see this?” I say. Simpson looks at the picture, but Morello doesn’t raise her gaze.
“Look at it, Ms. Morello!” I snap. “This part is personal!” Her head shoots up and she looks at the picture of Minnie, Mikey, and my beautiful Butterfly.
“Do you see that?” I seethe. “That is my whole life. Why, in God’s name, would you think I would risk that for a one-time romp with a woman who presents herself on a platter to a man she’s never even met?” She drops her head again and falls silent.
“And then there’s that,” I say, placing the picture back on my desk and folding my hands again. “When I try to get some answers from her regarding her behavior, she has nothing to say. I guess she thinks her silence will protect her and I have something to prove, but you’re about to find out how wrong you are.
“GEH is built on talent, knowledge, innovation, and trust. You have proven to be untrustworthy and as all administrative staff are at-will employees, your employment with GEH is terminated immediately. I cannot have untrustworthy staff in this establishment.”
Morello gasps but still doesn’t say anything. If I hadn’t heard her say something moments before she came into my office, I would think that she couldn’t speak.
“Mr. Grey!” Simpson protests, “there must be someway we can discuss this—some kind of agreement that can be reached…”
“I don’t need to reach an agreement with her or with you. This is non-negotiable and even if that weren’t the case, she doesn’t speak. As her representative, you can help her gather her things and get out of my building. And if you have a problem with that, Ms. Simpson, I’ll process your resignation with her termination.” Simpson falls silent and throws a nasty glare at the nearly-submissive Ms. Morello. I can tell that she’s not, but she surely would have had a lay-person fooled.
“No… no, sir, that won’t be necessary.” Good to hear it, Ms. Simpson.
“Ms. Morello don’t forget that you’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement that’s even effective after your employment ends, and I will prosecute for breach.”
She doesn’t say anything, but her aunt jerks her arm and snatches her towards the door. Morello leaves first, nearly leaving her aunt behind. Simpson falls in line behind her.
“And Ms. Simpson?” I say. She turns around to me as she’s walking out. “Don’t ever play that posturing shit with me again. Are we clear?”
I can see her swallow.
“Yes, sir,” she says humbly and scrambles out of the office behind her niece. The elevator is still at the top floor when Ms. Morello calls it. As it opens and they step on, I can hear Simpson hissing at her niece.
“I can’t believe you came to his office without permission dressed like that! You nincompoop!” She continues to argue at her niece as the elevator closes. My head of shipping and receiving stands there looking at me, awaiting his fate.
“You can go,” I tell him. “Leave Ms. Tanner, please.” I can visibly see him sigh.
“Thank you, sir,” he says as he scurries out of my office.
“I thought we did background checks on these people,” I complain.
“Well, sir, character flaws don’t normally come up on background checks,” Alex defends. I shake my head.
“You two get to work on the assignments I gave you. I’m going to be wrapping this day up soon. I’ve had enough.” They both leave without another word.
“Andrea, send Ms. Tanner in… and come in with her.”
I’m not taking any chances.
“Wow, Ana, that special was amazing,” Courtney says when she drops off her reports after lunch. “I see you guys in a whole new light now.”
“New in what way?” I prod.
“Well, I always knew that Christian could be psychotic when it came to you. A little visit to the ladies’ room proved that point to me. But dude, power couple doesn’t even begin to explain you two. You strolled around GEH like the Commander-In-Chief—the women all hate you, by the way—then, you sit in your condo like the Queen on the Throne, even though you’ve got this beautiful mansion on Mercer Island. Thanks for maintaining my anonymity, too. And then the shooting range! Good God! Christian may be intimidating, but you’re downright terrifying! Who in their right mind would even consider crossing you guys?”
Those are significant statements considering that she already knows who we are pretty personally, though one statement has really piqued my interest.
“Why do you say the women all hate me?” I ask.
“The ones that do look at you in the special have a serious beam in their eye,” she says. “I’m one of those people who pay that kind of attention to people—particularly to women because… well, I’m gay,” she shrugs. “Nobody would look you in the face and reveal how they felt, but when you passed by and they caught a glimpse of you, none of them did the ‘hey, boss’ wife’ thing where they kind of mentally acknowledge your presence but then go back to what they were doing. They all paused, and some even glared and rolled their eyes.” I sigh heavily.
“If you caught it, someone else caught it,” I lament.
“Yep,” she confirms, “haters, profilers, and lesbians everywhere most likely picked up on that immediately.” She crosses her legs. “Ana, you’re the envy and hated cow of straight and bi-sexual women and gay men all across the country—probably the world. You landed a hot, sexy billionaire and you’re a tasty little morsel, too… smart, independent, and you’re packing heat. Those who didn’t hate you before hate you now, and those who did hate you hate you even more, but make no mistake. They’re going to fucking respect you, because they fear you, too.”
“Get outta here,” I say in disbelief. “It was just a couple of guns at a firing range.” She laughs heartily.
“Is that all you saw?” she says. “Just a couple of guns at a firing range?” She leans back in her seat as if she’s about to school me.
“I don’t know what happened before you took to the range, but you were pissed, and we could tell,” Courtney begins. “You’re standing there like a miniature member of the SWAT team, blasting shit to bits, and your body doesn’t even shake from the recoil. Trust me, I know. I love my Vick endlessly, but I adore your tits.”
I can’t believe how comfortable this woman is talking to me this way. Then again, yes, I can. We were introduced when she came on to me at a social event when I was 92 ½ months pregnant.
“Jesus, Courtney,” I laugh, shaking my head.
“It’s true. That already tight little body was solid as a fucking rock and even a shotgun didn’t make you budge. The control was sexy as fuck, but scary as hell. I don’t know who you were picturing when you were destroying those targets, but I’m glad that it wasn’t me!”
I was picturing grip boy who also apparently adores my fucking tits!
“And then you’re floating through Grey House in 14-inch stilettos that would cause even the most seasoned runway walkers to faceplant after the first three steps. You didn’t look like a woman trying to be a man in a man’s world, and you didn’t look like a hooker trophy wife trying to prove she had everything under control. Trust me, I’d be the first person to call you out if you did…”
And she would, too.
“You looked like a confident businesswoman who holds the reins and knows who she is and trust me—the hater bitches came off looking just like hater bitches. They sneered and snarled, and they rolled their eyes and they were as transparent as plexiglass. What’s more, you held your head tall and pointed out key things in the organization, like you knew what the hell you were talking about. You looked like a million bucks, but you weren’t this Vanna-White-in-an-evening-gown bitch walking around showing the world what you have with a dramatic flourish like ‘look at all my shit.’ It was like these heifers didn’t even exist and you were just going about the business of being you.
“And then here comes Christian, all silent, sexy power sitting there like ‘try me if you dare…’”
“Hey!” I interject, and she knows what I’m aiming at.
“Look. Do you know a hot, voluptuous, sexy woman when you see one?” she asks, folding her arms.
“Well, yes, but…”
“And you don’t have to lick her clit to know, do you?” she asks matter-of-factly, causing me to gasp damn near all of the air out of the room. “Likewise, I don’t need to suck a dick to spot male sex appeal.” She raises her brow at me and I’m just staring at her incredulously like “who the fuck are you.”
“Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. Hot morsel babe, sex-on-a-stick husband, both independently filthy fucking rich, smart and resourceful, oh… and they can blow your fucking balls of with their couple o’ guns.” She mocks me on the last few words. “You spit out these two gorgeous nuggets with these large inquisitive eyes that melt your heart and then you sit them on your lap and bounce them on your knee and cuddle them in front of the screen. And they just sit there and giggle and coo and win over the hearts of America.” She shakes her head. “Either you’re painfully modest or totally fucking obtuse to the power that your family has over the hearts and souls of men and women all over the world.”
“Thank you, oh, guru,” I say sarcastically, closing my laptop. “When you’ve got something to say, that filter just flies out the window, doesn’t it?” She shrugs.
“I can’t help it,” she says. “Besides, I don’t need a filter with you. You know me better than anybody, except maybe Vick. You saw me at my worst and you know all my bullshit… you’re the closest thing to a real friend that I have.” Her voice cracks a bit and she clears her throat. I’ve learned that Courtney will avoid showing weakness at all costs.
“I am your friend, Courtney,” I clarify. She shrugs again and drops her head.
“I didn’t want to assume…” she says, her voice trailing off.
“You’re living in my condo, Court,” I laugh.
“I’m a bad person.” Oh, shit. I stand from my desk and walk around to her, grasping her by the arms.
“You were a bad person,” I clarify again. “You’re not anymore, can’t you see that?”
She shakes her head without raising her eyes.
“How can you not see that?” I ask incredulously. “You’ve changed from the person that you used to be…”
“Do people really change?” she asks, finally raising her eyes to me. “Can they?”
“You fucking well did!” I retort. “You were in here on Christmas Eve reading Horton Hears a Who to a bunch of homeless children—doing the voices and all! Would the Courtney who came on to me at the Adopt-A-Family Affair had done that?” She shakes her head, then she pauses.
“Wait a minute,” she says, her brow furrows. “You weren’t here on Christmas Eve… were you?”
“I was here for part of the day, remember?” She shakes her head again.
“But you weren’t here when I was reading to the kids. I remember that.” I smile softly.
“I was just about to leave,” I tell her. “I think I had told you to go find something to do and get out my face.” She’s still bemused.
“You… saw me?” she asks. I nod.
“Which further drives home my point,” I tell her. “You were reading to those kids not because you thought someone was looking or because you wanted attention. You were doing because you wanted to…”
“I had an ulterior motive,” she admits. “I would have shoveled shit to avoid going back to Chuktapaw, and that’s the God’s honest truth.”
“So, you had motivation… to do better, to be better, and Courtney… you have. You were a rotten person,” I confess. “You were a horrible human being. You didn’t think about anybody but yourself and what you wanted, and you didn’t care who you hurt in the process. People were nothing but pawns to you and you used them to get ahead, including your grandparents. I wanted nothing to do with you because I felt like you were irredeemable. I didn’t care if you ended up in Chuktapaw, Hatchawatchie, Tuscaloosa…”
She laughs through the tears she couldn’t hold back, and I’m glad to bring a little levity to the conversation.
“In one short year,” I tell her, “less than one, you’ve proven to be indispensable. You have skills and knowledge and abilities and ambition that I would only hope to find in one person. And your determination not to be the person that you used to be will guarantee that you’ll never be her again.” I pause for a moment to let that soak in.
“Is that why you won’t see your grandmother?” I ask. “You think you haven’t changed?”
She looks at me, frustrated. Then, the frustration falls, and she sighs, resigned.
“Okay, Ana, here it is, unfiltered,” she says. “No matter how much changing you do, you can’t undo the hurt that you’ve done to people. You can’t take away the pain that you’ve caused. The wound might heal, but you’ve caused that pain and you can’t take it away.” Tears slide down her cheeks. “And they can’t take away the pain they caused you, either,” she sobs. Her shoulders shake as she cries, and I don’t know if she hears, feels, or sees me closing in for a hug, but she puts her hands up as a barrier to stop me.
So, I stop.
She reaches over to the Kleenex box and pulls out a few to clean her face.
“The way I felt when my grandmother was about to put me back on that plane, I never want to feel that way again. The things she said to me… the way she looked at me…” Courtney shakes her head while she’s talking. “Never again.”
So, it’s self-preservation. She’s certain that if she sees Addie again, all that animosity is still going to be there and she’s going to be subject to the same abhorrence she received when she last saw her grandmother.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she says, her voice cracking again, but she quickly recovers, “but it’s not just about me. What my grandmother said to me was horrible. I don’t think those words in that context should ever be said to another human being… ever. But for that sweet, kind, selfless little old lady that would give you the shirt off her very back to be pushed to that kind of limit to say something that horrible to her own flesh and blood… I can’t imagine what she must have been feeling. I’m a terrible, terrible monster to have pushed her to that limit.” Now, I close the space between us and place my hands on her cheeks.
“Courtney…” She moves to push my hands from her face. “Courtney!” I reinforce, refusing to release her cheeks. Her eyes fix on mine.
“You’re not that monster anymore,” I say firmly. “Do you think I would be wasting my time on that bratty little entitled bitch that walked into my office last year? Do you?”
She tries to drop her head, but I won’t allow her.
“With all the shit that I got on my plate, that I’ve had on my plate all fucking year, do you think I would’ve given two bits of a shit or a fuck about you if you were the same know-it-all, haughty, selfish, heartless person that you used to be?”
I’ve got her attention.
“My husband cornered you in the ladies’ room, threatened your life over me, but you knew that he wasn’t your biggest concern. You almost got your head blown off in this very office over a tissue, do you remember that? And now, you’re staying in my condo—going to school and studying to be able to help troubled kids; organizing grant proposals and researching funding. We need you around here when a year ago, nobody wanted to be in your presence, and you still don’t think you’ve changed?”
She sighs. She can’t argue with me.
“You’re a lot wiser than I gave you credit for, but now, you have to forgive yourself. You can’t keep punishing yourself for this. You drove Addie to say those things to you, and she did, and it hurt you down to your soul. Isn’t that punishment enough?” She sighs again and brings sad eyes up to my face.
“She had high hopes for me,” Courtney says. “She only wanted the best for me and I let her down. Now, I’ll never see my grandma again.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way…”
“She wants it that way,” she interrupts. “And it’s better. I don’t want to hurt her again, and that’s what seeing me will do. And… I don’t want her to hurt me again.” She sighs again.
“You’re right,” she says. “I’ve hurt for awhile and I’ll work on forgiving myself, but that’s the best I can do.”
“That’s all I’m asking, Court, that you give it a try.” She nods.
“I… um… I have to get to class,” she says with a weak smile. “Can’t wait to see what the next year holds.” She walks over to the door.
“By the way,” she adds, “I know when to use my filter.” She quickly leaves my office before I can stop her. I would love for Addie to see how far she’s come, but I’m not going to push it. If I do, the results could be disastrous.
By the end of the day, I still haven’t heard anything from Christian about any of the background checks from the interviewees yesterday. Granted, it’s only been one day. Employment background checks are probably more detailed than the checks we do for others.
I’m shutting my computer down and getting ready to head to the nursery to get my children when I hear a woman frantically calling my name from down the hall. Oh, dear God, what now?
“Ana! Oh, my God, Ana!” Harmony comes running into my office just as I’m packing up to leave. She can barely breathe. Oh, God… Did Tina pass away?
“Are you okay?” I ask, grasping either of her arms. “What is it?”
“I… I had to tell someone. You won’t believe it!” Well, I know it’s not Tina’s death.
“Sit, Harmony, sit,” I say, guiding her to one of the Zen sofas. “Catch your breath.” She takes a seat still clinging to my forearms.
“Ana! I just talked to Carrick. He got a call from Ken and that roach that’s representing him. They just left his office. Ana… he signed the papers! I’m free! It’s over!”
“Get outta here!” I say, my surprise genuine. Jesus Christ! Was that exposé really that terrifying. “Did he give a reason for the sudden change of heart?”
“I don’t know. Carrick said that Ken kinda freaked out when he heard that his name was Grey. Obviously, nobody wants to mess with the Greys…” Obviously. “But then Carrick said something about not wanting any trouble and not wanting anybody breathing down his throat. Carrick said he was acting strangely and he had to ask if Ken was coerced or doing anything against his will. I wouldn’t care if he had a gun to his head. He signed the papers and he is out of my life! Woohoo!!!”
She leaps from the sofa dancing a jig around my office. I can’t help but laugh aloud at her unfettered display of joy.
A/N: What is “Wheel Decide?” Check out www.wheeldecide.com.
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