Rome, Italy – 1989
Rome, the centre of power throughout Italy, is a city with views that gives visitors a visual history lesson wherever they travel. The blinding contrast of new and ancient architecture in the same vicinity is enough to take even the most seasoned traveller's breath away.
It was one of those warm days, the kind of day that makes you look forward to the luxury of high summer. The streets of Rome were filled with tourists soaking up the atmosphere of European culture. Pretty girls were wearing pretty dresses, and handsome men were looking into the eyes of their lovers over coffee. It was the perfect day to have lunch and relax.
Jack Grant took the walk from his hotel, hands in pockets, hoping to avoid the worst of the day's heat and the never-ending traffic of tourists and haphazard scooter drivers as he turned onto the Via Del Corso. His target was a little trattoria on the Via Di Sant Eufemia that he frequented for special occasions.
To the casual observer, he looked liked what he was; a retired gentleman of leisure. Late middle-age, well-dressed in a lightweight bespoke blue suit, an open-neck white shirt and sunglasses casually hanging from the breast pocket in case of a solar emergency. His face was tanned, with a haircut that was close to the nub and that disguised the inevitable thinning that comes with age. And while his body, manner and dress gave off an air of relaxation, one at ease with himself and his surroundings, it was the eyes, the ice-blue gunslinger's eyes, that still had intensity and gave a hint of a former life and discipline.
He had time before he had to be at the trattoria, so he did what he always did, indulged his old habits and completed a quick anti-surveillance route; more for errant pickpockets than for a genuine threat from his old life. After all, he was retired. He took his time, strolling through the streets, carefully inspecting the stores and little boutique shops that lined the route to the small side street that housed the Trattoria Villa Venezia.
These days, Jack Grant made a comfortable and safe living. After leaving his old career, he had lived off his savings for a while until he had decided to invest in the stock market. The revenue paid his bills and left him free to do a little work hiring himself out as a property consultant. It was a world away from his previous career and he was absolutely fine with that. He was neither rich nor poor and he had no desire to be either. He owned a little apartment on the Channel Island of Jersey that he stayed at several months of the year; the remainder of his time was spent in London in his other apartment, which he also owned. These days, he very rarely thought of himself as the 'Gorilla'.
Within his once chosen trade, the name of Gorilla Grant and his exploits were now confined to the dusty corners of espionage history. The world had turned and there was a new generation of spies, assassins and secret agents that he was not a part of anymore. His 'Gorilla' cryptonym was now an ancient legend, like Ajax, Hector, Romulus or the ancient knights of Arthurian legend.
It was as he turned the corner to the Piazza that he saw her. She was mid twenties, slim, dressed in a summer dress of blue that allowed her raven hair to fall down and over her shoulders. He noticed several of the men at nearby tables and in the quiet cobbled street taking an appreciative glance in her direction. Even now, these days, she still took his breath away. How beautiful she was! How she had grown into this fantastic young woman he was so proud of!
His daughter, Katherine.
“I like what you've done with your hair,” she said teasingly. “Is it a new style?”
Grant rolled his eyes in mock exasperation. “Very funny. Don't you know it's cruel to pick on the middle-aged and make fun of our thinning follicles?”
She giggled. Her dad could always make her laugh. “How was the flight? You seemed to make good time.”
Grant had flown in that morning from London to see his daughter. He had arrived comfortably with hours to spare, allowing him to book into a small, fashionable, boutique hotel on the Via Petroselli. He had the penthouse suite with an expansive outdoor terrace, complete with its own potted lime and olive trees from which he could pick fruit for drinks if he so wished.
“It was easy, relaxed, and comfortable. The most strenuous thing I had to do was choose my scotch.” He winked and continued to study the familiar menu.
The inside of the trattoria was busy so they decided to sit at one of the outside tables and soak up the atmosphere of Rome. A young waiter, who looked no more than eighteen, came over to furnish their outdoor table with the staples of every Italian meal; a selection of breads and a jug of water. He lingered a bit too long for Grant's liking, the young man trying to catch a smile from Katy. Grant c****d a suspicious eyebrow that sent the young man away with a gush of embarrassment. Katy giggled at her father's gruffness.
“Stop it,” she chided. “He's only young, he's just being friendly. Maybe he likes the older woman?”
Grant grunted and decided to let it go, instead returning to the safety of the menu.
“What about you? Anyone new?” asked Katy, sipping at the cool water.
“Me? No. Not for a long time. I'm far too busy for women at the moment,” he said, glancing appreciatively over the wine list.
Katy raised an eye at that one, as if to say 'pull the other one, it's got bells on it'. In fact Grant had several women that he 'dated'. He liked them all, even loved some in his own strange way. But he was happy as he was; a single bachelor having fun in the company of beautiful women. No commitment from either of them, just good fun, good s*x and a happy life.
“You need to move on, Dad. Eunice would have wanted you to be happy,” said Katy.
He nodded; he understood that it was a very human emotion. Unfortunately, for him, it just wasn't that easy. Eunice Brown had been the only woman who he had felt committed to. They were best friends, business partners, lovers and soul mates. They had been through fire together, battles that had tested them both individually and as a couple. After being declared persona non grata and been hunted for many years following the 'Caravaggio' debacle, they had finally found a kind of peace. For the first time in his life, Jack Grant had found happiness. They had both decided to retire from the bounty hunter business, instead choosing to operate in adjacent areas of the intelligence fraternity. The odd courier job, a bit of ad hoc surveillance or occasionally watching someone's back in case of trouble; nothing too exhausting and nothing too long term.
Then came the business trip; a mysterious out-of-the-blue contract for Eunice that had shattered that peace. What had actually happened was still a mystery. Details were scarce, but that hadn't stopped Gorilla Grant from trying to find out. He had been met with walls of silence and eventually he had to admit defeat. All he knew was that she had been going to meet a client in Singapore, a private plane had been chartered for her and that she was going to be met at the other end. She had packed and left early to make the appointment, like any other time.
The next thing he heard was the news reports that a private jet had disappeared over the Pacific, and that no wreckage had been found and that there were no survivors. Jack Grant's world had literally come crashing down around him. He had been for many years an angry and bitter man. He had raged – he had even let that rage spill over into his professional life. He had enjoyed killing – something that he had never, ever, done before. He had been infected with a bloodlust.
His saviour was the girl sitting opposite him now. She had moved in with her father and they had re-formed their small and discreet family again. Eventually, the bloodlust had dissipated, ebbed away until the last thing that he ever wanted to do again was pick up a g*n or kill; certainly not for money and definitely not for pleasure.
Jack Grant had retired from what he knew and began to rebuild his life again. A fresh start, learn new skills, new business ventures, travel, women… and if not happiness, at least the illusion of it. Yes, his daughter had definitely saved him and he would never be able to truly thank her for that.
“Anyway, never mind me… what about you? Anyone on the scene? What happened to that bloke from America that you were into?” he said, carefully changing the subject.
Katy rolled her eyes. “Oh, Brad… oh, he was such a douche-bag! I learned my lesson with him. I'm seeing a few people, nothing too serious. I'm too young for that. I just want to have a bit of fun.”
That gruff grunt of disapproval came from him again. Nobody likes to think that their daughter acts the same way they did at that age… or even at his age now!
“And work? How's it treating you?” he asked.
“Good. Really good in fact! There is talk of giving me my own department to run!”
“Katy, that's fantastic. I'm so proud of you!” He beamed at her, ever the proud father.
Katherine Grant was a brilliant fashion designer. As a little girl, she had been a wonderful artist and, encouraged by her aunt, would make clothes for her dolls. She would design them, cut out the materials and then, with the help of her aunt, sew them together. A dolly fashion display was the usual ending. This had carried on into her teenage years when she had shown a talent for art and been accepted into working as a trainee in one of the big London fashion houses. She had worked hard and diligently, eventually securing a position over in Italy with an even larger fashion house. The work suited her in all kinds of ways. She was well paid, good at her job and it gave her creative mind a constructive outlet, but best of all she got to travel all over the world. At least once a month she caught up with her father for a day or two. They had lunch, went to the theatre and enjoyed each other's company. It had become their routine when Katy was in London to visit him, or for him to visit her when he was in Rome.
“Let's eat, let's celebrate!” he said. Grant called over Maria, the matriarch of the family trattoria. They ordered a fresh salad of mozzarella and tomato, balanced out with focaccia bread. Grant would have chicken and red peppers for his main, while Katy ordered a seafood risotto. Between them, they ordered a crisp, cold white Pinot Grigio; the perfect drink for a warm, sunny day.
Their conversation was light and teasing as they ate their courses, in the manner of fathers and daughters who enjoy each other's company. They talked of old family, old friends and old lives and what they both wanted for each other's future. These moments were the ones that Jack Grant looked forward to most at this point in his life. Spending time and enjoying the company of your grown-up children was one of the delights of life, he thought. They had plans over the next few days to see the sights and “do the tourist thing”, as Katy put it. Grant didn't mind. He'd been to Rome dozens of times over the years, he knew it well. But seeing it with his daughter always gave it a different perspective.
They finished their meal and Grant said, “Well, thanks for the meal. It's so nice when one's daughter is old enough and financially able enough to foot the bill.”
Katy looked at him in mock horror. “What? You think I'm paying for lunch? Oh no, old man, you pay! I'm your only daughter. It's right that you treat me at every opportunity.”
They both smiled. It was a familiar joke that they both indulged in. “Alright… just this one time,” said Grant. “I'll fetch the bill on the way back. But you owe me a stroll along the Tiber, for old times' sake! But first, a quick call of nature!”