This story takes place after Ransom.
“I’m worried about you,” Ryan’s granddad said as they worked out together in the London office’s basement training room. Well, Ryan was working out. He wasn’t sure what the hell his granddad, Bill, and great-uncle, Bob, were doing.
“I’m fine,” Ryan said as he pummeled the speed bag.
“You haven’t been right since you came back from South America,” Bob said as he stripped down to his white long johns and ill-fitting white vest.
Ryan frowned at the man as he neatly folded his work overalls and put them on the bench beside the wall. “You know there’s a changing room, don’t you? With lockers and everything.”
“Doesn’t feel right using the lockers,” Bill said as he put his clothes beside his brother’s. “We’re only contractors, not part of the official team.”
“But you feel fine about using the workout room any time the fancy takes you?” Ryan said.
They shared a look before Bob answered, “Well, yeah. We’re semi-permanent contractors. That’s got to come with some perks.”
Their twisted logic almost brought a smile to Ryan’s face. Which would have been the first in months. The men weren’t semi-permanent anything. They’d just been hired to do some joinery work months earlier and had never left. Since retiring years earlier, they’d only taken the jobs that interested them, and apparently, Benson Security was fascinating because they’d been inventing reasons to hang around ever since they first walked through the door.
Of course, the fact they could hassle him while they were there was also one of their perks.
“He’s right, you know,” Bob said as he started his warm-up, which involved swinging his arms around aimlessly. “You haven’t been the same since you got back. You don’t smile so much.”
“Still eat a helluva lot though,” his granddad said with a grin.
That was true, but now every calorie he took into his body was turned into pure muscle. He’d bulked up quite a bit since the South American operation, gaining strength but losing none of his agility. Getting in peak form had taken a lot of hard work. It had also given him an excuse to come down to the basement and punch things whenever the need arose. Which was frequently. Mainly because he was mad that he’d been played for a fool by some woman he’d met in Peru.
He was tired of being seen as the team fool. Tired of being known for how much food he consumed and how much time he spent playing on his Xbox. He was just as well-trained as every other member of his team. More so than some. Megan had never spent time in the army. She hadn’t spent years taking on terrorists in Afghanistan. He was a professional, damn it. So what if he had crap taste in women and was easily suckered in by a pretty face? He sure as hell wasn’t going to be that gullible again.
“See what I mean?” His granddad’s words penetrated his thoughts. “He’s been full of anger since that trip. Always punching something.”
“Son,” Bob said. “You need to talk to somebody.” When Ryan glanced over at him, he threw up his hands. “Not me! Somebody else.”
“Not me either,” Bill said. “How about your grandmother? If you catch her on a night when she isn’t going to bingo, she’ll have plenty of time to listen. But not before Coronation Street. She’ll cut you off like you’re dead to her if that comes on the telly while you’re talking.”
“I’m not talking to Gran.” He steadied the speed bag and turned to the heavy bag. Talking to his family always brought on the urge to punch something, and hard. “I don’t need to talk to anybody. There’s nothing wrong.”
“There’s nothing wrong?” Bob said, two sets of overly hairy eyebrows shooting up as they both stared at him.
“Son,” his granddad said, “you’re spending so much time hitting things, you’re beginning to look like the termite man.”
Ryan stopped mid-punch and stared at the two tiny gnome-like men in their long underwear. “Termite man?”
“You know the guy,” Bill said. “From the movies. Keeps saying ‘I’ll be back.’” He looked at his brother. “To be fair, he does always come back.”
“Man of his word.” Bob nodded. “Got to respect that.”
“And hard to kill.”
“Because of all the steroids.”
“Got to use steroids to get muscles like that,” Bill agreed before looking back at Ryan. “You’re not taking steroids, are you? They cause impotence.” He patted his ample belly. “I’d rather lose the muscle and keep the ability to please your grandmother.”
“I’m going to puke,” Ryan said. “And it’s the Terminator. As in, he puts an end to things. He’s got nothing to do with bugs.”
“Makes sense.” Bill nodded before lifting a staff from the wall of practice weapons. “You ready?” he asked his brother.
“Just let me get my stick.”
Rolling his eyes, Ryan returned to punching the bag, but a movement out of the corner of his eye distracted him again. He turned to see his granddad and great-uncle circling each other, in what could only be described as slow motion. Now and then, they’d smack their sticks together like a couple of half-dressed, rhythmless Morris dancers. It was the most bizarre thing he’d seen in a long time. And that was saying a lot because he’d spent time living in Invertary.
“Is there a reason you two feel you need to work out in your underwear?” Ryan said.
“Why buy something new when this works fine?” Bob said as he tapped Bill’s stick with his. “Nearly got me there,” he said. “We’re definitely improving.”
“If the building’s attacked again, we’ll be ready this time.”
“It helps that we have the panic room now.”
“Just in case we panic. Which reminds me, there’s nothing like a good glass of gin when you feel panicked. We need to stock up that room.”
“Already done,” Bob said.
It was no use. It was impossible to work out with the two of them in the room, playing with sticks and talking rubbish. He watched them as he unwrapped the tape from his hands. It was like watching those two hobbit cousins of Frodo attempting to fight. He looked down at their slowly dancing feet. Wouldn’t you know it? They were hairy.
As he watched, they stopped circling each other and stood, panting.
“Never been so fit in my life as since I came to work here,” Bill said.
Bob patted his rounded middle. “I ran up the stairs the other day, and I wasn’t even out of breath.”
“Kill me now,” Ryan muttered, making a mental note to talk to Callum about rescinding his family’s building access. Coming to work would be a whole lot more pleasant if he wasn’t being followed around by two geriatric gnomes who confused age with wisdom.
“You know,” Bill said. “It happened to me once too. And if you tell your grandmother this, I’ll swear you’re a liar.”
He knew he shouldn’t ask. That was how they sucked you in. One innocent statement that made no bloody sense. The next thing you knew, you were asking for an explanation, and then, that was you. Sucked down the rabbit hole that was the Granger brothers’ brains.
But, even knowing that, he couldn’t stop the question coming out of his mouth. “What happened?” he said between gritted teeth.
“Got screwed by a woman,” Bill said, gazing off into the distance. “And I mean that in every sense of the word. Gladys was the prettiest little thing you ever did see. Big blue eyes and a smile so innocent all you wanted to do was hold her in your arms and shelter her from the world. I took her to bed, as you do. Woke up the next morning with no wallet and my best boots missing.” He grinned at his brother. “It was worth every penny.” He cleared his throat. “I mean, that’s what I think now. Back then, I fancied myself in love and being conned like that devastated me.”
“It’s not the same thing,” Ryan said. Although it was a little too close for comfort.
“I tracked her down you know.” Bill sounded wistful.
Bob’s staff dropped to the mat with a dull thud. “You did?”
His granddad nodded. “Few years later. She was working as a lady of the night. Broke my heart to see it. But I think she’d been in that line of work all along. Only, now she was up-front about it. If you know what I mean.”
“How did the meeting go?”
“Cost me ten bob.” The grin was wide.
“You didn’t?” his brother said, and then they held on to each other as they fell about laughing.
With a shake of his head, Ryan picked up his towel and water bottle. “Thanks for the pep talk. It was something else. As usual.”
“My point is,” Bill said when he’d stopped laughing, “we all get taken for a ride sometimes, son. Not every woman’s like that, but some are. You need to kiss a lot of frogs to find your princess.”
“I’m not looking for a princess,” Ryan said. “I’m perfectly happy on my own. Women are too much trouble.” He’d learned that lesson the hard way, at the expense of his reputation with his team. These men and women expected him to have their backs. Not to get distracted by his dick with every passing woman.
Bob looked sad. “She might have had a good reason for what she did,” he said.
Ryan strode past them toward the changing room and the showers. “There’s always a good reason—for them. It’s never good for me. Don’t worry about me, Pops. I’m good. She used me and I let my team down. It won’t happen again.”
As he heard the door close behind him, his granddad’s soft voice came to him. “Oh, I hope it does, son. Because the alternative is no life at all.”
With that, Ryan headed to the showers.