Friday, January 30, 2015

Book IV - Chapter XXIX - Christian and Anastasia FanFiction



Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Welch and Barney are standing in front of my desk in my office. My arms crossed, I gaze at both of them.

“It has been nearly 3 months and we have hit several dead ends. I’m getting very impatient. Why can’t we get a name?” I shout, slamming my hand as my voice booms around the room. Only Barney flinches a little.

“Mr. Grey, the Feds aren’t giving up the name that matches the partial. We’ve tested and forced every door available. The guy’s a ghost.”

Frustration looms over me like a dark cloud.

“The fucker is lying low as well. If he’s following us…” I say looking at Taylor.

“We’ve not had anyone tailing us or Mrs. Grey, sir. I’ve conferred with your parents’, your sister’s and your brother’s security details as well. No activity so far. Whatever he’s doing, he’s just staying under the radar.”

“I don’t get it! Why tail my wife in New York, break into the SIP server through my wife’s assistant, and abandon. That’s not possible, unless it’s a diversion from another purpose he or they have planned.”

“We’re not giving up Mr. Grey. But it makes it difficult when the trail is getting cold. We haven’t had any activity, and the partial print is a dead end as far as our feds contacts are concerned. They said to leave it be as far as his identity is concerned. But…” Welch trails off.

“But what?” I hiss growing frustrated.

“Your brother’s wedding is coming up in three weeks. And we are concerned…” he says looking up at Taylor who nods once, “that this might be an ideal place for the perp to make an attempt to sneak past our defenses. Open crowds are our biggest challenge because they’re harder to control. We have checked and rechecked the entire guest list and their companions. We’ve also checked all of the service people, but there can always be last minute changes. Someone calling in sick, someone taking the identity of another person…” and that’s the crux of my worries. Anything can happen. “Since Mrs. Grey will be the Matron of Honor, she will be active in the ceremony.”

“We were hoping…” Taylor starts cutting in, “that Mrs. Grey would be a little less active since she’s only four weeks away from the delivery now, and by the time the wedding is underway, it’ll be only one week to the delivery, sir. That way, we can have a little more control of who can come close to her.”

“No can do, and you know it! She’ll find it offensive and this is one event she’s been looking forward to. When she's not going to work, she gets cooped up in the house with swollen feet. So, she looks forward to every opportunity that can get her out and about.” If I put a limit to her activities even for the sake of the baby concerning her best friend’s wedding, she’ll have a fit, and will not forgive me for weeks. She has been moody as the pregnancy has been progressing. Dr. Greene says it’s the hormones. And I can’t have my wife angry at me for weeks. Not when she needs me, not when we are so close to the delivery. This is on the security. They’ll have to find a different solution without putting the burden on Ana. I know they’re worried about her as well. They’re worried about the sudden silence of the perpetrator as if he just dropped out of the face of the planet. I don’t know what is better. A perp actively pursuing the love of your life or one who has gone out of the radar? Is he dead or just gone stealth? I think it’s the latter that worries me and my security detail. He just went ghost on us.

“What say you, Barney?” I ask as he’s attentively listening to Welch and Taylor. He clears his throat.

“We have no security holes that we can detect so far, sir. All the information that I recovered from that hard drive aided us how to block smart phone related security breaches. But, nothing is foolproof. As for the identity of people, I have only recovered information enough to construct a profile of the perpetrator, but not the identity. To recap that information…” he says as he shuffles the screen of his tablet. When he gets to a particular page, he shifts his glasses and pushes them back on the bridge of his nose and reads.

“The perp is a male. Mid to late 30s. He’s well built, athletic, intelligent, patient, resourceful, he knows how to get in and out of places with disturbing ease, comfortable in privileged society which may indicate that either he is or was a part of it sometime in the past either working or through personal means, he’s confident, has intensive military, intelligence training. He’s also very good with technology utilizing it, but the way which he utilizes it shows me that he may at one point in time have been a part of either the hacker community or the IT security branch of the government who are a part of the elite IT security professionals. The breadcrumbs he left us, and they’re just that, disposable breadcrumbs are items he wanted us to find. He orchestrated it. He’s very good in his craft…”

“Well, the way all three of my best security and IT guys vouching for this fucker, I should hire him instead of the three of you!” I bellow. No one dares to respond.

“Why can’t Pella’s contacts with the Feds come through?” I ask trying for the semblance of patience.

“We can’t reach him. He’s been out of the country for weeks and the only thing his assistant in Los Angeles managed to confirm is that whoever this perp is, he is not acting as part of a government project. His name is erased of all records. The man is a ghost; he doesn’t exist anywhere except in covert ops and that’s beyond anyone’s reach, sir,” says Welch.

“Clearly, it’s not, because someone got to him to do this job!” I said. “Clearly he can’t just vanish like will-o-the-wisp into thin air!”

The door to my office opens with a hasty knock followed by Alex Pella stepping in and a flustered Andrea rushes after Pella and his main security detail Anthony Decimus.

“Apologies Mr. Grey,” mutters Andrea. “Mr. Pella is here,” she says, and I swear she mutters “unannounced” under her breath, but Pella ignores her. I dismiss her with a nod. His visit is unexpected but not unwelcome.

“I agree, Grey,” he says extending his hand to me surprising us all with his presence. “He can’t. Everything leaves a form of a trace... Even a ghost,” he says arching his eyebrows as he looks at Welch.

“Well, speaking of the devil,” I say. “My men tell me that you’re harder to reach than I am. Considering how hard it is to reach me, this ought to be a compliment for you,” I say as we do our customary forearm shake.

“I didn’t drop out of the face of the planet, if that’s what you’re asking, and it’s not always as hard to reach me. But certain leads I get require my personal follow up and attention. I was actually chasing your perp, always three steps behind. I must say, he is well connected, and trots the globe like it’s his backyard. That says a few things: he has the know-how and the means to do that and he’s always under the radar.”

“How then do you know that you were following the right man?” I ask crossing my arms.
He points to a chair before my desk, “may I?” he asks, and without waiting for my reply, he sits in it.

“Yes, go right ahead,” I say with a wry smile.

“I’m sorry, I’m actually quite exhausted. I’ve slept 20 minutes in the last 48 hours; I just haven’t had any time to call you or Welch and we literally just flew in,” he says opening his eyes wide as if he’s trying to ward off sleep.

“As you’re well aware, the Feds are a dead end. They won’t give up or divulge any information about the identity of the perp through the back door. And even if we were to go through proper channels which you don’t want Grey for reasons of your own, they would be even more of a stonewall to us. This way, we know the man exists and his identity is buried deep in the system. But whatever services he has provided for his country, it kept his identity under wraps. National security supersedes personal security and therefore we are blocked even with my contacts.”

“So, what then were you chasing?” I ask after he recaps what we already concluded.

“Our John Doe,” he replies with an arrogant gleam in his eyes.

Olly Murs - Troublemaker

“He may be in his line of work for a few years but I have more connections and years in this than many of his peers and sometimes what is kept hidden is out in plain sight.”

“What do you mean?” Taylor asks.

“I had gotten a hold of the surveillance videos from the airports. He perp managed to keep his head down, but I had a frame of visual of his profile with 87% clarity. Of course, with a man who doesn’t exist in any system and a man who can change faces either through make-up or surgeries, it would be only a minuscule chance for us to discover his identity. But, the name is nothing. The person behind the name is what matters. After calling in some favors, I had circulated his picture around the underground rogue ‘officials’,” he says making air quotations. There are those who need favors and those are hard to come by. I had to get someone out of a Siberian prison in exchange of the name or whereabouts of the perp, someone our government decided to forget, a man who was very motivated to talk after six years of hard labor.”

“Why would they let him go?” I ask.

“No one really let him go. We sort of stole him,” he says shrugging.

“You kidnapped an intelligence prisoner? A spy?” I ask incredulous.

“No, not exactly,” he says with a wicked grin. “It’s not like he existed in their records or ours for that matter, here. Could it actually be classified as kidnapping if we just stole a person who didn’t exist, one who was just written off which made him extremely anxious to talk to me and he’s now a free agent, so to speak.  But, our perp has no real name which wouldn’t do us any good anyway; just code names and that actually mean a little more because they’re associated with the perp’s whereabouts since they can go through many code names in the course of any given time. But it gave us a starting point where such an individual can be located. We’re all creatures of habit no matter how hard we try to remain outside of the norm of certain routines.”

“But, don’t you think it would be nearly impossible to locate someone whose name we don’t know other than a generic name John, who may very well have abandoned the task after the possibility of being captured. And if that’s the case, a man like that could be anywhere in the world; in which case we have no place to start looking for him!” I nearly growl exasperated.

“Yet, you don’t believe that and neither do your men,” he answers sure of himself.

“Why do you say that?” I ask with a placid face.

“You have doubts. You’re questioning your statement’s plausibility. We have to operate under the assumption that he did not abandon the task. That’s being prepared for the worst case of scenario even if the best occurs. I have to play the cynic here. Even if we were all to agree without any doubt that our perp John and the one who hired him have abandoned their intended task, one of us must always be the ‘it man’ to take the potential threat seriously no matter how far-fetched it may seem. That may save your ass a lot of grief!”

“Mr. Pella, isn’t this a paranoid approach to danger?” asks Welch.

“It should be your job to do the paranoid approach so your boss doesn’t have to worry about it,” Alex retorts. “You know that the threats have been real, consecutive since Mr. Grey’s engagement to Mrs. Grey, and most recently, she was ambushed at a very exclusive party by a guest, no less! Then we have the problem of a close encounter; close enough to breach SIP cyber security to give access to Mrs. Grey’s personal e-mails as well as her schedule. Can you imagine what can happen if the contents of the messages were released online, or her personal information, her schedule, her whereabouts; when you look at it that way, you know that the danger she may be facing is great.”

“Alright! We’re just talking in circles here. What’s the solution? We’ve not discovered who the fucking perp is,” I hiss fisting my hands.

“Bait the trap, then,” says Pella in a low but clear voice.

“Bait. With. Whom?” I ask enunciating each word.

“The perp thinks he may have access to Mrs. Grey. Let him think that. Put out fake information out. In fact, we can even place a double for Mrs. Grey who will carry out some of those ‘fake tasks’ just in case if someone is watching her from afar. We need to know if someone is still keeping an eye on her. Let this other woman do some of the obvious things that Mrs. Grey would do. If Miss Tiber and Sawyer are with her, the perp will assume that Mrs. Grey is there as well. This will give us the opportunity to observe if someone is still conducting surveillance on her. Let’s do that at least for the next two weeks,” Pella indicates.

“Will we hire new security detail for Mrs. Grey?” Taylor asks concerned.

“No, that’s not what I’m suggesting. Mr. Grey is known to have only his trusted security around him. Clearly every enemy worth his salt would know that if Christian was someplace, you would be with him. He doesn’t go without you. If people see him, they assume that you’re with him and nearly 100% of the time, you are. And vice versa. If you are someplace, people will assume that Christian is nearby. Because, he doesn’t trust anyone else as much as you. Same can be assumed for Mrs. Grey. Sawyer seems to be a permanent fixture in Mrs. Grey’s security detail. They’ve seen Miss Tiber long enough with her to know that she’s a near permanent fixture as far as Mrs. Grey’s personal security is concerned. I would suggest involving Mrs. Grey, but at second thought, the more people know the easier for this plan to leak,” Pella says looking at me.

I don’t want Ana to be involved in any shape or form in this scheme not only because I would concern that it would leak, but primarily for her well-being. She’d worry, and she’s in her third trimester in her pregnancy. Besides, another brunette who looks like her leaving Escala or appear to be going to her workplace or her appointments would make her think that a sub was involved. I can’t have her think that.

She’s going to be busy with my brother’s wedding preparations, helping her friend Katherine. That may give us the window of opportunity. The wedding is only three weeks and the baby is due in four. Her matron of honor gown had been altered at least three times and she wants to be less visible. I’m going to be my brother Elliot’s best man. Welch’s team is in charge of handling the security. The wedding date has been set and it can’t be manipulated. People have received their invitations and have confirmed. We have planned the security like our own wedding. We will transport the guests to the prearranged location.

“Taylor!” I say abruptly standing up. “Have Barney create a fake schedule for Ana. I don’t know how he’s going to do that, but make sure it’s not mixed up with her real schedule which shouldn’t be too hard since all the smart phones have to be approved by the IT department at SIP. That way, no confusion is created by Hannah’s phone receiving the schedule.”

“Well, what happens when Hannah receives the fake schedule? I’m sure she’s going to assume that Mrs. Grey schedule and alerts her with what she needs to do except that she doesn’t need to do those. We may create problems inadvertently.”

“That’s why we need to make sure that those few dates will be on the days Ana will be resting at home.”

“Can you make her stay at home?” asks Pella.

“She’s going to work 3 days a week right now, but any three days of the week, because she’s not always feeling so well. I can have Dr. Green suggest her to drop the number of days to two. Because she’s very into the baby’s well-being. If she suggests that Ana is spending a lot of time for Katherine’s wedding preparations as well as work, she might get her to spend fewer days at work.” 

“Okay, that might work, sir,” responds Taylor deep in thought.

“We track Mrs. Grey’s vehicle with her double, take her to the fake appointments or work and have inconspicuous vehicles following her at a safe distance to observe if there are any individuals following,” Welch adds.

“Taylor, you’re in charge of finding a woman who fits Anastasia’s description. Have either Sawyer or Melissa take her to Ana’s doctor. How many appointments do we need to take this other woman?” I turn and ask Pella.

“Christian, we’ll have to put up a whole show. This man had seen Mrs. Grey. He was in her close vicinity. So, whoever is going to play her double, cannot look that much differently than Mrs. Grey. It has to be a full show, Christian.”

“It won’t be easy, sir, especially if we have to keep it from Mrs. Grey,” says Welch.

“That’s why I’m paying you the money I do, Welch, so you get the impossible done for me. Is that a problem for you?” I ask menacingly.

“No, sir,” he responds berated.

“Great! Then we start this week!” Pella says dispersing the crackling violent energy I’m emanating.

“Will you be in town? I really can’t afford to play the ‘Find Pella’ game at this stage.” He grins slyly at my remark.

“I too am a man in demand, my friend. But it so happens that I can conduct my business from Seattle for the duration of the month. I can’t promise to stay in town afterwards. I have to get back to LA. But I promise to remain here for the duration of one month, or until the perp is caught whichever is shorter. I intend to resolve this problem it within a month,” he says solemnly.

“I will pay you of course, for this…” but he holds his hand up.

“I told you I would do this as a gift,” he responds.

“This is business. You shouldn’t have to. Your gift had been the help you provided with Charlie Tango,” I say resolutely. I don’t want to be beholden to anyone, especially friends. I can afford his services however expensive they are. And his services are the ones I’d like to employ because he has no rival in his field. He first looks offended as if I rejected a precious gift, a gift he wouldn’t part for anything with anyone else.

“That was your wedding gift. This…” he says pausing, looks around as if he isn’t sure whether he wants to part with the real reason for the help he’s offering and comes to eye to eye with his bodyguard Anthony Decimus. A silent communication goes between them. For a brief Alex’s eyes holds a deep ancient sorrow as if he’s holding the load of the world; failure, guilt even and the biggest agony I’ve ever seen in someone’s eyes. His bodyguard’s eyes are unreadable to me, though Alex seems to have read a lot in them.

“Why?” I ask simply, softly, yet my voice carries a demand to be told the truth, one that would determine if his help, paid or not acceptable for me. “What’s in it for you? Besides you being my friend. Clearly, this would be a huge favor and I don’t like to owe. I would much rather prefer to pay,” because paying for the services puts me in charge. I hire and fire, accept or deny; I am always in charge. His eyes then turn to Taylor, who also looks resolute and firm.


“This isn’t your reckoning. It’s mine,” I respond without blinking.

“Not quite. You’ve not experienced the harm from someone or something that targets those you love just to hurt you to the full extent. Believe me, nothing shatters your soul into millions of pieces…” he whispers, then his voice goes even lower, I strain to hear him, “irreparably as the loss of the reason for your existence…” You could hear a pin drop in the room with his revelation. “I have. I don’t wish it on anyone, least of all my friend.”

“Why hasn’t there been any news about your loss? How long ago was this?” I ask as curiosity gets the better of me. But then I feel I’m intruding into his personal life. This is a man who is as private as I am who just shared a very personal information with me.

“It was a long time ago and it was a time and place where the conventional news media didn’t reach. Besides, I wasn’t going to make a spectacle of my personal losses or have the law enforcement to do my job to bring ‘justice’,” he said is if the word was an expletive, “to the loss of my family. It’s my job.” He concluded with finality. The look on his face said that this is a man who knows revenge.

“How could the conventional media not reach such an important news about you? Men like us barf and it makes the headline news,” I say questioning as I cross my arms.

“Come now, Grey. You know as well as I do that we do our best to stay under the radar. Me, more so than you.” Welch and Taylor are by now pure attention. “I employ a very capable staff and I always take care of my own problems. I go to places where our laws don’t reach, no laws of land that I could abide by exist… where I,” he says pausing, then continues, “have to bring my own laws in my own company,” he says raising his eyebrows, leaving the rest for speculation.

I cup my chin in my hand thoughtfully. If I were to hire anyone to finish this job and do it efficiently and quickly, it would definitely be Pella. But it doesn’t rest easy with me that he’s not asking me to pay him. I have to get my own terms so I feel utmost confidence and not to mention the right to give orders for this.

“I want you to do the job, but here’s the problem. I have to pay you for your services. I can’t accept a favor as big as this and not think that there isn’t something else behind this, what would be a monumental favor. I don’t like owing. Let’s iron this out so you and my team can start as soon as you leave my office.” Pella leans back in his chair crossing his arm. He has a determined aura in his body language.

“Counter proposal then. I lead this investigation. Welch answers to me. You pay me for the incidentals, travel expenses and my men’s time. My time shall remain a gift. I don’t like to be an Indian giver; I don’t like to take my offers back. This way, I would still provide you with a gift yet you pay for the rest of the expenses. This would be a win-win for both of our requirements. Would that be acceptable you?” he asks. The lead? Welch answers to me and I reach him every step of the way. But Pella is unreachable at times. This is the first concern I need to address.

“Welch is my paid employee. I’m his boss. I can reach him 24/7. You, on the other hand are another ghost. I can’t find you when I need to. That’s a concern when I have this sort of problem in my hand.”

“I am going to be reachable 24/7 until this problem is resolved, because I will be here. And, if,” he says emphasizing, “however, the finding the perp requires me to travel, I will do that informing you and with an open channel for you to get a hold of me.” That eases my mind. But I’m not done interrogating him. I stand up and go around my desk. I lean back onto my desk right in front of him towering before his seat in a very dominant gesture which doesn’t escape his notice. My arms crossed, I looked down on him seeking and eliciting the real intent about his grand gesture.

“Why do you want to lead? Isn’t Welch up to par?” I ask. There is no flinch on Welch but his pupils slightly dilate to take in Pella’s response. All heads turn to Alex. He smiles and looks each of us straight in the eyes, his eyes darkened. My tactic brings out a determined Pella who is full of steely control. He doesn’t have the hair trigger temper most men of power possess for such a challenge. The single minded, decisive glint in his darkened eyes slowly takes us all in for a long minute. Then he rises to his considerable height, slowly takes two steps towards Welch.   

“Welch has been leading the investigation all this time. I don’t mind cooperating with Welch who has considerable experience and know how. But, there’s no one better than I am in the field of reconnaissance and if there was, he or she would be or is working for me. I am the best connected, most aggressive, stealthy and skillful. There’s also the issue of time. You cannot have two leaders in such a mission. You can only have one leader. You, of all people should understand that better. I, am the natural choice. I don’t follow. Ever. I lead.”

“Welch shall be the second in command. I am to be in the loop at all times. I am still the final person to report to. With these conditions, you have a deal,” I say and extend my hand. He grasps my forearm and we shake on it.

“Taylor, Welch, Anthony… Let’s get to work,” he says.

“I will have to participate remotely, sir. Welch will inform me,” Taylor says. The trio consisted of Pella, Decimus and Welch walk towards the doors.

“Oh, Alex!” I say with an afterthought. He turns around and looks up at me curiously.

“How’s the rigging on the ships going?”

“The designs as I’m sure your shipyard manager informed you, are completed; we’re in the production phase. We should start the installations in May. You know the laws in Washington state,” he says with a sly grin, “if I’m not mistaken, some of which you helped co-sponsor.” He’s referring to the anti-gun measures.

“Yes,” I say with a placid face.

“Well, those very laws you helped put in place are just putting us on hold until we get the green light from the government. After all, this is unusual for such ships designed for cargo, but I’m afraid they became necessary for the safety of the crew not to mention the way it interrupts business. I’m surprised that they have not reached out to you before,” he says as if they have waited too long.

“Why would it be necessary in the extent they want it? They could easily carry handguns, and I’m sure the ports they’re traveling have laws their own to abide by.”

“Christian,” Alex sighs patiently. “You’ve been doing business on the mainland here and with Europe far too long. The open seas are an entirely different business. Out there, you’re your own law, your own doctor, your own shrink, your own chef, your sole protector in many cases, and you better have a crew and resources on your own ship you can rely on. This is not excess, but a necessity. When the pirates come to your ship to take what you have, to use you for ransom and hold you hostage in unspeakable conditions where hostages have died, you quickly realize that it’s fight or die world. To them, you’re a wealthy European or American and this is business and life’s brutal. That’s what they understand, what they know. It’s a different mindset. With this, we’re giving our customers the ability to speak their language,” he says nonchalantly.

“I wish it was that simple,” I respond shaking my head.  

“It is that simple. This is not intended against innocent people. It’s meant to defend the ship against piracy.”

“I want to make sure that, what is being rigged does what it’s supposed to do. I want to see the videotaped test results and findings.”

“Don’t worry; we’ll do better than that. We can do a live demonstration once the first one is completed,” he says as he nods his goodbye turns around. The trio leaves my office.

*****      *****

I cannot believe that four hours passed since I last contacted my wife. It had been a very busy morning. I’m also curious why she hasn’t sent me any text or e-mail. I dial her phone impatiently. It goes to voicemail on the first ring. My heart skips a beat and I dial her office phone. Her assistant Hannah answers cheerfully.

“Thank you for calling SIP. This is Hannah, Ana Grey’s assistant. How may I help you?”

“Hannah! Where is Mrs. Grey?”

“She’s been in one meeting after another, sir. Since she will be leaving for maternity leave, she wanted to get all the meetings out of the way before she took her leave,” Hannah says.

“When is her maternity leave starting?” I ask, miffed that she hasn’t told me anything about it, yet.

“She wants to talk to her obstetrician first and I think she wants to delay it as much as she can because we have quite a few books coming up by some of our up and coming authors that Ana has championed,” she speaks in rapid fire mode. “She wants to be a part of the three book launchings all of which are unfortunately on separate dates. Her maternity leave date is not set in stone yet, but we think it may be in three weeks,” she concludes. “She wants to push it to three and a half weeks, or work till the last minute,” she says lowering her voice. That bit of information angers me.

“When is Mrs. Grey coming out of her meeting?” I ask.

“Currently she’s meeting with Mr. Cooper, the publisher from New York. She’s been in that meeting for just about an hour. She should be done any minute so she can have her lunch,” she says brightly and I don’t like the idea of her meeting that man one little bit.

“Have Mrs. Grey call me as soon as she’s done with her meeting,” I say and hang up.

I walk back to my desk and buzz Andrea.

“Yes, Mr. Grey,” her voice echoes in her usual professional, no non-sense manner.

“Get Dr. Greene on the phone for me,” I order.

“Mrs. Grey’s doctor? Certainly, sir,” she responds, her voice bristling with efficiency.

Within two minutes my line buzzes again and Andrea is back on line.

“Dr. Greene is on line two, sir,” she says. I press the blinking line.

“Dr. Greene, this is Christian Grey,” I greet her.

“How can I help you, Mr. Grey? Is Mrs. Grey alright? She isn’t due…” she says tapping some keys by the sound of it, then having found her answer, “for another four weeks,” she says sounding concerned.

“She’s well so far. But, I have another concern. Mrs. Grey wants to work nearly up to the minute she gives birth. You and I both know that she has had a difficult first and second trimester. Now, she’s trying to work harder than ever, not to mention she’s participating in my brother’s and her best friend’s wedding which means she’s spending many hours helping her friend out. She also doesn’t want a nanny for the baby which means that it will be an additional task she’ll be jumping into without any rest. I am concerned that this is not good for her or the baby!” I utter my exasperation.

“Mr. Grey, as a doctor, I can appreciate your concern for your wife’s well-being. But, what you just stated concerns me as her obstetrician as well. It is to her and the baby’s benefit that she doesn’t do too much to avoid stress which is really bad for her health as well as the baby’s. It can induce early labor, low birth-weight, and high blood pressure for the mother. Does she have anxiety, nightmares or physical responses like racing heartbeat or sweating?” I think back about the question.

“She has occasional nightmares,” I respond. This has heightened especially in New York and after we got back. But, Ana has less anxiety than I do. “She has racing heartbeat and sweating of course, but that’s totally natural because that’s the reaction I elicit from her when we have sex,” I say with a placid voice. I can feel Dr. Greene smile on the other end of the phone.

“That won’t harm her, but if she wants to work, she can generally work up to the due date, but some mothers opt working a week or two before the due date. However, considering she’s putting so much time to help her friend out, that should be taken into consideration. Is she back to full time work?” she asks.

“Twenty five hours of office time, but she puts equally long hours working from home as well,” mainly reading and summarizing manuscripts, but she's dedicating a lot of hours.

“Oh, dear,” she says disapprovingly. “Mr. Grey, are you coming to her appointment this week?” she asks. I’ve not missed any of her appointments but one since she told me she was pregnant.

“Yes,” I respond.

“I would like to hear Mrs. Grey, check the baby, and then based on my findings suggest the proper time frame in which she should start her maternity leave.”

“Not good enough doctor Greene!” I retort.

“My wife is a selfless giver. She wants to help her friend, she wants to fulfill her shoes in her job as an editor, taking on more than her share of the workload to prove herself that she’s her own person all of which I support but she’s doing too much! If you suggest her that she can work a week or two before the birth of the baby, she will take it as set in stone and continue her regimen. I don’t want my wife to be working so long. She should have the time off, proper rest before the baby comes. She will have her hands full when the baby is here.”

“Mr. Grey, I promise to keep all this information under advisement to give Mrs. Grey the best assessment, but I agree with you. During the first pregnancy, we don’t have a history of pregnancies or births therefore it would always be best to play it safe for the health of the baby. That and the mother’s well-being are top priorities over the jobs moms hold or other responsibilities. Please be here when she is, then we can discuss it together.” I feel relief after her implied support.

“Is there any other concern you have, Mr. Grey?” she asks and my call waiting beeps into my ear. I look at the caller-ID to see who was calling. It’s Ana!

“If I have any other I can think of, I’d surely let you know.”

“It was a pleasure speaking with…” she says and I hang up before she finishes her sentence and switch the line.


“Hello to you, too, Christian,” she says.

“I was worried about you. Why haven’t you called?”

“I was busy with meetings, and with a prospective best seller coming up, I was negotiating terms with a bigger publisher,” she says and I know she’s building up to something.

“Okay. When is the book launch?”

“Oh, that’s the thing. This big one is in 3 weeks.”

“Let someone else do the launch then!” I say gritting my teeth.

“Christian, I can’t do that! I’ve done all the work, promotions and just struck a deal with a bigger publisher after we meet a certain quota. I’m the one who is running the project!”

“Anastasia! I think you forgot that you’re pregnant with OUR child. That’s a week before the delivery.  Am I even allowed to ask when you intend to go on maternity leave or your assistant gets that information before your husband does?” She sighs.

“Please don’t be upset, Christian. I was going to talk to you about that tonight. Since I’ve been helping Kate, I have not dedicated as much time as I would have liked to this book, so I need to be working up until delivery. And I’ve read that sometimes first babies can be late up to two weeks!”

“Why do you reach decisions without asking me especially one that is as important as this Anastasia?”

“Christian!” she sighs. “Because, I know my body and I have this excessive energy and I know you would say no!”

“You’re damn right I would!”

“There’s so much I want to accomplish so I can devote more time to Teddy when he’s born.”

“Ana, that last burst of energy, is just the nesting urge,” I plead with her. She has kept up with her exercises and surprisingly she’s remained very fit and active. But she needs help standing up, she has shortness of breath and she can’t find a comfortable position to sleep. We’ve purchased couple of body pillows to provide her comfort. I hate it that we have to have them between us because I love having my limbs tangled with hers, but I love it that she needs me more in her current state, depends on me, but she’s still fiercely stubborn in her own plans which she goes back behind me to go through with them.  

“I know, but this is important to me. You want to hand over SIP to me next year. I need to be on top of the ball game.”

“Anastasia, I couldn’t give a flying fuck about SIP right now. What concerns me is your well-being as well as our baby you’re carrying.”

“Please Christian! Can we discuss this tonight? I’m hungry and cranky! I haven’t eaten in three hours” she says, and discuss it, we will. I don’t want to upset her even though I really really want to punish her for putting not just herself but the baby in danger and protect her from herself, yet that is not a possibility. And I don’t want her to go hungry either. Where do I find the fucking balance? With the fucker who is stealthy as ghost after her on one hand, my stubborn wife on the other, they’ll be the death of me. Breath Grey, breathe! Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one… My hand runs through my hair in exasperation.

“Tonight, Mrs. Grey,” I say.

“Thank you, Christian. I love you,” she whispers. I close my eyes with the soft velvet caress of her tone.

“And I you, Ana. Go eat, baby. I’ll see you this evening,” I say, hanging up. Old Christian would have rushed to the SIP to resolve the problem immediately. But I have learned to negotiate our disparities differently. Punishment doesn’t work with Ana. But, sex does. So, I devise my plan. If you want to throw the gauntlet, I’d be more than happy to pick it up Mrs. Grey.

“Taylor! Lunch!”

“Yes, sir,” he says and opens the door.

*****      *****

All warfare is based on deception. Hence when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

It is the eighth burner phone he went through within the past three months, two more than he anticipated. But it is necessary. They’re used only once. Each one is synchronized to call the corresponding burner in the Boss’s possession. He didn’t think Grey’s team could crack the tablet’s self-destroy code and even though there was always that slight possibility of having it cracked, he had decoy information to lead them elsewhere, but he had not assumed that they could trace it back to him somehow.

“What did you say?”

“I said my handler called.”

“Your handler?” the Boss asks.

“Yes, you know the particular skills I have. And though my handler overlooks my occasional moonlighting,” he said in a dry tone, “he extremely dislikes it when I do it on the home turf especially with such a high profile man who is not going to be off the public view.”

“Tell me that you didn’t reveal anything!” the Boss hisses.

“Reveal?” he smirks. He’s been tortured in a North Korean camp and escaped the impossible. Alive! This is a walk at the park. “I don’t exist. I’m a ghost. No one can prove anything at all. Apparently your boy’s reach is farther than you had assumed. I’m told that he has a contact who has deep reaches.”

“Who is it?”

“Another ghost,” who bothersomely felt omnipresent to him, a feeling one he loathed profusely. It was a problem he would rectify soon and the probing of his Handler would go away. Without his personal ghost at his side, Grey had no reach in the depths of a system that didn’t exist in any records known to men except a handful; there were things even Grey’s money couldn’t buy, and this was one of them. He smiled with satisfaction. He didn’t think that it would be too hard for him to discover who it was that was chasing him since he knew the direction he should be looking: Grey’s. Follow his top henchman; he would lead him to the other freelancing Ghost. Then he would eliminate the problem. Just a simple complication.

“The handler is just probing with those of us whom they think were on the mainland at the time. I was supposed to be halfway around the world at the time and I was…” he says nonchalantly. He was on a private jet with a flight plan that left out his name or any of his aliases on his way to Hong Kong where he, soon after landing took out a particularly difficult problem for his Handler. Since he had resolved the pressing issue so efficiently with absolute finality for his Handler, he knew that he was an indispensable asset and that single incident gave him the alibi that there is no way they can tie him to New York incident which the Boss is referring to.

“Don’t fuck this up! Your head is on the line of fire!” he barked, knowing full well that his ass was right beside the said head that was supposed to be on the firing range.

“I have no intention to fuck it up!” John, the Ghost asset said lowering his voice with absolute determination. It wasn’t just the spectacular payday he was going to get at the end of the task, but it was also the sense of enormous satisfaction in putting -- one of men who thought of himself as an invincible somebody -- in his rightful place which was right under his military grade boots. He would prove Grey his fragility in such an unfixable manner that no amount of his ridiculously colossal wealth could not repair the damage he planned to do his person, crushing his very soul once he was done with him.  

“I think I have waited long enough for a result and you’ve laid low. I want this done in three, the most four weeks of time,” the Boss said.

“Mr. Linc…”

“Careful, John!” he warned immediately and added, “Unlike you Mr. Doe, I have one name I own and you are not permitted to utter it!”

“As you wish, Boss. The timeline would suit me well. I had gained all the information I need. However,” after the New York cock up, he thought to himself, “I need additional reconnaissance, and that I will gain soon enough. I already know the important dates. I now need to know the locations.”

In the next ten minutes, the primary location and its backup were ironed out to the Boss’s satisfaction. On both possible dates, he would have his alibis to distance himself from even a remote possibility of having name associated with what fucking Grey was to experience without getting any of his fingers dirty: Grey’s soul shredding, irreparable defeat and his victory which would only be known to Lincoln.

“You got the message you will deliver from me after he is completely fucked up?”

“Abso-fucking-lutely!” John replied with a grin. 

“With my pleasure.”

Hi Girls! Chapter XXX is also completed, but I've not edited it yet. I have to run to the store now. Have had lots of emergencies here. I'll have to edit and then post the last chapter of Book IV.