The bank was locked up for the night. I curled up in my office chair, my shoes kicked off, and went over the last few applications of the day. It never failed to fascinate me, the millions of reasons why people wanted a loan. Some of the applications told a better story than the bestselling novels piled up on my bedside table waiting to be read. Like this one from an older man whose wife died six months ago. I guess he was feeling a new sense of freedom because now he wanted a small business loan to start a small social club for “the social-security-aged youth” of his community. It made me chuckle, some of the colorful ways in which he made his case.
Finally done, I shut down my computer and straightened the surface of my desk. Mrs. Talbot, my manager, was a hard ass about the way our desks looked.
A bank is not the place to leave your panties hanging off the back of a chair.
That was her favorite mantra. Made me wonder what her house looked like. Probably so sterile she could eat off the floor. Either that, or she was a hoarder like on that television show. Boxes and papers and paintings and clothing stacked all over the place.
I slid my shoes back on and grabbed my bag, tugging it over my shoulder. Joe, the security guard—they were all named Joe, weren’t they?—pushed open the door.
“Have a good night, Miss Thompson.”
“You, too, Joe.”
I stepped out onto the front steps of the bank and closed my eyes, taking a deep breath of the cool, salty air. Santa Monica in January. There was a little chill to the air tonight. Nothing that would have my teeth chattering before I could get to my car though.
I made my way to the sidewalk, my thoughts still on that old man who wanted funding to open what would essentially be a brothel for older gentlemen, again chuckling under my breath. Then I turned the corner and the chuckles died.
What was going on? Something wasn’t right.
I hesitated before stepping into the dark alley where the employee parking lot sat. There was just something not right here. I thought about going back, asking Joe to walk me to my car. He’d offered often enough that I knew he’d be more than happy to walk me. And then there was movement, deep in the back of the lot, near where my car was, and…
At the Compound
The office for Gray Wolf Security was actually at the home compound of Ashford Grayson. He bought the property with the company in mind after spending nearly a year wandering the county aimlessly, trying to figure out what to do with himself after he left the military—the Green Berets to be exact. He loved being a soldier. Adjusting to civilian life again was…difficult.
The security firm was born out of not only a need to find a purpose for himself, but to find a purpose for a few soldiers—like him—who also needed a direction. A purpose. Therefore, it was his business plan to hire men and women like himself, retired soldiers looking for something stateside that would have some of the adrenaline of the military without so many of the risks. A few risks. Sometimes more than even he could anticipate. But nowhere near what they’d risked in their day-to-day lives in Afghanistan and Iraq and Korea and wherever else they served.
The main house, a rambling cabin-like structure, served as the office space for the company—with Ash’s living space upstairs. The living room, kitchen, and dining room were advertised as “open-concept living.” Now they held a half dozen desks where Ash’s main operatives were expected to keep up with the paperwork that came along with a job of this kind. That included David, his brother, who spent most of his time working on the bank of computers arrayed in one corner of the room as their tech guy. The dining room housed a large conference table where clients were often given the dog-and-pony speeches over why they should hire Gray Wolf, or the explanation of what was done for them and why they should pay their bill that was often in the thousands.
Twenty-four-hour security was not cheap.
The kitchen was still just a kitchen. Ash had been known to make four-course meals there for his people after a particularly tough case was completed. Kirkland Parish, one of Gray Wolf’s operatives, also liked to cook, but you couldn’t always call what he made edible.
Ash had good people working for him. Each was handpicked for reasons that went beyond their ability to do the job asked of them.
Donovan Pritchard was a member of Ash’s own Green Beret unit. They worked closely together during Ash’s last deployment to Afghanistan. They saw things together that other people couldn’t even imagine, let alone see in their nightmares. Donovan was an expert at explosives. He could work with any material, blow up anything, and predict accurately how it would fall. He could take out a dozen insurgents but avoid the civilians right next door.