Hehe I knew you guys wouldn't like the cliffy I left for you so I did it anyways :) anyways, thank you for bearing with me on the se slow updates, but I promise I'm writing as much and as fast as I can each night after work. And make sure y'all are completely and totally honest in your reviews, don't hold back!
A week's gone by and still no word on Carlos. Every day I go and bug each and every single one of the guys, asking if they knew something, anything. I made it my daily task to accomplish my agenda on getting some kind of information.
I turned and saw Lester, pale faced and breathing fast. "Lester…"
"Joey's looking for you… Stephanie."
I took off at a dead sprint to the conference room. As I turned the corner, I saw everyone piled in the small room, heads hung low and faces forlorn.
I walked up to the screen, looking Joey straight into his big blue eyes. Pretty, but not the eyes I wanted.
"Joey, you better be giving me good news, or I swear…" My voice broke towards the end and I looked away from the screen.
"Stephanie, you know I love you. You're like my little sister, which is why I asked to be the person to tell you."
I looked around the room, noticing no one was talking, or even looking in my general direction.
"Stephanie, we found Ranger… he's dead."
"Writing a eulogy for someone special is, uh, quite difficult. The most often dished out advice is to just 'be yourself' and express your emotions in your own personal way. However, there are times when we can't find the right words to really describe our feelings. The lack of appropriate words in these kinds of speeches results in a eulogy that is boring or monotonous. Hence why I didn't write one." I looked around to see people leaning over to each other and whispering things I couldn't hear.
It's been a month now since we got the news from Joey. Today is his funeral; the day we finally get to lay him to rest, where he belongs. So here we are, blood and company family, gathered around his grave site, me standing behind the podium giving the eulogy he asked me to give. With the job that Carlos has, apparently he's had his funeral planned out for years. We didn't have to do anything except wait for his… body to be flown back to the states. After that we just sat back and watched as everything unfolded on itself.
"For those of you who don't know, my name is Stephanie. I've been working for Carlos for the last three years. You may think I'm not 'qualified' to give his eulogy, but what you don't know and or realize is that I've been in love with this man since the first day I met him. Honestly, now that he's gone, I don't know what I'm going to do without him.
"No matter who he was to anyone here, you know he made a significant difference in your life. His presence… will be sorely missed. No one will ever understand the astounding distinctness he brought into everyone's hearts. And…" I turned my head, coughing to clear my throat, trying my hardest not lose it completely in front of everyone. "I'm sorry, I can't finish this."
I grabbed my papers and walked away from the podium, looking down to avoid all eye contact with anyone.
"Stephanie!" I heard a voice call my name but I didn't turn around. I didn't need anybody to know how weak I truly was.
When I cut through all the cars along the graveyard, I bumped into Joey, red eyed and hunched in on himself.
"Stephanie, where are you going?" He looked puzzled.
"I can't do it Joey. I can't just give his eulogy like it's nothing. I'm putting the love of my life in the ground today!"
"Honey, I'm so sorry. But you know this is what he wanted. He wanted his last words said through you. That's why he had you give his eulogy, that's why you're reading his last will." Joey's eyes were pleading with me to understand what he was saying, what he was trying to get through to me.
"Joey, I just…" my voice hiccupped and stopped in my throat. After that, I lost it all. My wall, holding back all the tears, all the screams, hits and kicks, broken. I felt myself hit the side of the car, and I slid down to the gravel road.
Through my turmoil and complete breakdown, I never noticed when Joey picked me up, or carried me to the limo, or have me driven back to Haywood. I finally came to when I noticed I was lying in bed.
I sat up and saw Tank sleeping in the chair next to the window, facing me. I turned to the clock and saw it was 2:30 in the morning. I pushed back the covers and slowly rolled out the bed, trying to be sneaky going to the kitchen.
I was turning the knob when I heard, "Where you goin?"
I turned around to see Tank leaning on his knees, fully awake and staring me down. I didn't bother answering him and just walked out of the room.
"Stephanie! Will you please tell me where you're going?"
"Does it really fucking matter? All you really care about is me not hurting myself. Don't bother denying it because I know that's the only reason you stayed tonight." I faced away from him and walked towards the door.
"What the hell makes you think that's why I stayed?"
"Why else would you be wearing your belt?" I motioned towards the utility belt he was wearing holding his cuffs, gun holster (empty), and another holster for the mag light. "Plus I saw the fuckin sedative sitting on the dresser, I'm not stupid Tank."
"We're just worried about you, Bomber. After you ran out on the funeral, you basically went catatonic. We didn't know what to do with you and we didn't know how you were reacting to…" he paused and shrugged his shoulders.
"Say it Tank."
"You know what-"
He backed a step away from me and looked to the ground. "We didn't know how you were taking Carlos death. There, are you happy?"
I walked up to stand right in front of him, toe to toe. I looked him in the eye and said, "No I'm not fucking happy. And all of you can go and kiss the darkest part of my ass. I'm not suicidal, I'm not crazy, so back the fuck off and let me grieve Carlos' by myself. Nobody fuckin feels like I do."
I opened the door and waited for him to walk through. When he didn't move, I motioned with my arm for him to leave. He didn't care; he just stood straighter and crossed his arms over his broad chest.
"God dammit, Tank, just fuckin leave."
"Why the fuck not? Can I not have privacy in this fuckin building?"
"Because this is what Ranger asked me to do, ok? It's my job to look out for you for the next couple of months while this shit blows over. I know it's going to be hard, trust me. I'm hurting just as bad as you are, but I'm pushing through it for him. So you can get over yourself and fuckin realize you're not alone and you have a god damn family here to help take care of you, whatever you may possibly fuckin need. And tell me or ask me one more time to leave, I promise you I'll make this a living fuckin nightmare for you."
I stared after him as he sat down on the couch, elbows on his knees and rubbing his hands up and down his face. I heard him sigh and saw his shoulders starting to shake. I slowly walked to the couch and sat next to him, tentatively putting my arms around him.
When I came to the conclusion that I wasn't the only hurting from Carlos being gone, I thought back to the past few days and how the guys have been acting.
Yeah, Tank was hovering more, but I think it's because he just wanted someone to breakdown with, someone who won't judge him. Lester isn't making his snide side comments, or trying to irritate me in any way. Instead he's been cooped up in his room; I haven't seen him except at the funeral. Bobby hasn't left the medical floor, and Cal and Hal haven't really left the screen room minus to piss, eat and sleep.
Talk about me being catatonic, none of these people were going to be the same with Carlos dead.
On that last note, I let it all go. I wrapped my arms around Tank, tighter than I thought I could ever do. We sat there, crying, drowning in each other's pain. He sat back and pulled me I his lap. He put his head over mine, smoothed my hair back and whispered, "Someway, somehow, through all the pain and turmoil, we're going to get through this, together."
Last thing I remembered before I fell asleep was Tank carrying me back to the room, clinging to his neck for dear life, praying that all of this was just a horrible nightmare.
Six months later…
You know, sitting behind this desk isn't as cracked up as I thought it was. Every time I would come in here to talk to him, I always used to say to myself, "That man can make anything look sexy." Now I'm sitting on the opposite and I'm thinking, "Man, this shit sucks," but it's what he wanted.
So, yeah, it's been six months since Carlos died. Despite the fact that it gets a little easier every day, I still don't know what to do with myself.
I'm sure you're wondering what's happened since his funeral; well here's the lowdown.
After his burial, we had his last will and testament to read. That's when shit went nuts. So, apparently he left everything to everyone in his company, minus the select few things that went to his family.
Tank got the majority of his cars, except his Porsche and his Aston Martin, which went to me. Lester got his weapons and Bobby got promoted to Tank's position. Which should mean Tank got Carlos' position in owning this company; no. Instead, the company got split in half with Tank and me. Tank handles all the money and the clients accounts, I handle all the clients and personnel; hence why I'm behind Carlos' desk.
So, now do I not only have huge ass shoes to fill, but I have someone who I absolutely cannot let down.
"Come in," I replied as I came back to earth from out of my own thoughts.
The door opened and Tank popped his head in, "Hey boss, I got something, or should I say someone, for you to see."
"Tank didn't I tell you to stop calling me boss?" I looked at him over the frame of my glasses, eyebrow arched.
"And didn't I tell you it's not gonna stop? I do it for my own reasons, so you can get over it. Now do you want to see this guy or not?"
"Sure, why not? What is he here for?" I looked through my desk calendar and didn't see any appointments, so he must be a walk-in.
"He's here looking for a job. I figured since you also run the personnel side of this place, you should be the one to check him out."
"Ok, send him in here, but I want you to stay as well, see if you notice anything wrong with him." He nodded his head and walked back out of the office.
I stood and started straightening everything around the office. I thought back to when Carlos first hired me and what his standards were. I knew then that this was my 'make it or break it' moment. I took into account all the guys who already work here, with their work ethics, their backgrounds, everything. Hopefully this guy came up to par.
There was another knock on my door and it opened without my reply.
"Boss, he's here. Are you ready?"
"Send him in." I fixed the suit I was wearing and took of my glasses.
Tank opened the door wider and he stepped to the side. The man who stepped forward was not who I was expecting.
"Boss, this is Viktor Lozada. Viktor, this is Stephanie Plum, the owner of this company." Viktor took a step forward and stuck his hand out for me to shake. I grabbed his hand and immediately knew something was wrong. I looked him in the eyes and saw familiarity, but I've never seen this guy a day in my life.
Something about this man screamed intimacy. I know I haven't seen him before today, but his eyes…
"Do I know you from somewhere?" I saw I still had his hand in mine and snatched it back. He raised his eyebrow in question to the abrupt finish to our handshake.
"No, I don't think I've ever seen you in person before. I know I've definitely heard of and seen you in the papers." He finished with a smile and I lost my breath.
200 watt smile.
No one's ever made me lose my breath like that except Carlos. And this man was definitely not him.
Viktor was six foot and 200 lbs. Full tattoo sleeves and some on his neck. He had short hair, but shaggy enough to look like he just rolled out of bed. He had a scar running through his eyebrow and his eye, marring the perfect mocha latte skin, almost the same shade as Carlos only a tad darker. He had a southern accent, as if he was from the south; yeah he was Hispanic like Carlos, but that doesn't surprise me. There are plenty of Hispanic cultures in the south.
All around, this man was so sexy… but I still had my heart set on Carlos, regardless that he wasn't here anymore.
"Um, Stephanie, you ok?" Tank had taken a step forward and was looking at me like I had lost my mind.
"Yeah, I'm good," I took a deep breath and turned my attention to Viktor. "Ok, I'm going to ask you a few questions. Just know that whatever you say can be checked, so if you lie to me… well, you just won't have a job. How does that sound?" He nodded his head in assent and we started.
"Where are you from?" I watched as he clasped his hands in front of him, loosely, but still tight enough to show he was nervous. About what, I didn't know. "There's no reason to be nervous, Viktor."
"What makes you think I'm nervous?"
"When you put your hands together in front of you, you clasped them tight enough to let me know you weren't comfortable, but loose enough to show you were willing to answer the question. Now whether or not you were going to do it honestly, that's another story."
He looked between me and Tank, then back to the ground.
"Was I right or was I wrong?"
"No, you were right, spot on actually. It's just I thought I was going to meet Mr. Manoso, instead I got you and it's probably worse." He laughed nervously and looked to the ground again.
"Actually, you're getting it a lot easier without Carlos being here. Doesn't mean I won't do anything different than what he did when he ran his company."
He nodded his head and turned to see Tank and back to me.
"Why don't you take a seat and be comfortable. I know what it's like to be on the other side of this desk." I gave him an encouraging smile and waved to the seat. "Tank you wanna sit too?"
"No, I'm good back here." He straightened his back and crossed his arms over his brawny chest.
"So, where were we? Oh yeah, I asked where you were from."
He nodded his head, "I was originally born in Cuba, but I was raised in Georgia."
"When did you move to the states?"
"I was eight, I'm sure you're asking because of the southern drawl, huh?"
"Yeah, you don't hear it too often on the east coast, unless you're military."
"I am. Eight years in the Marine Corps, I was infantry."
"Oh wow. Do you have any family near, or are you alone?"
"No, I've got some family, but they're back in Georgia. I'm not married or anything so no kids and shit. All I've got with me is a dog."
I nodded my head, acknowledging to him that I was listening. "How fresh are those tattoos?"
"Excuse me?" He crossed his arms over his chest, as if to block the ink.
"I can tell that you just recently got most of those tattoos on your arms. What made you want to get those?" I looked closer on his arms and noticed all the pin up girls. "Got a thing for the 50's?"
"Oh, are you talking about all the girls? Well, it's the same woman, the closest rendition to the woman I've been in love with for the past few years." I saw the pain flicker in his eyes then disappear as fast as it came through. I looked closer but I couldn't really see the faces, but she looked gorgeous from where I was sitting. "I normally wear nothing but long sleeves, so if my tattoos are going to be an issue, you'll have nothing to worry about."
"Why aren't you together with her now?"
He took in a slow deep breath, "She passed away unexpectedly. She got into a hit and run car accident."
"Oh, Viktor, I'm so sorry. If it's any consolation, I know exactly how you feel."
"Thank you, I really appreciate it. But it is what it is. If it was her time to go, there's nothing I can do to stop it from happening." I could tell he's told himself that every day since she's been gone; his little mantra for him to help get over her death.
I looked at Tank and he just shrugged his shoulders, "Ok, so you said you were prior service. What made you join the military and what made you get out of the military?"
"I joined the Marine corps because I got in trouble. Possession of a lot of cocaine can get you a lot of years in jail," he laughed, but it sounded tired, "But they gave me an ultimatum and that's what I chose. I got out because I wanted something different and I heard Carlos, well, now you, ran one of the best businesses out there for people like me."
"And that's why you chose this company? To help you transition from military to civilian?"
"Basically, plus I heard the pay was great." He flashed the 200 watt smile again and I thought back to Carlos; how that smile made me do things I would never dream of.
Tank had taken a step forward to stand next to Viktor, "A lot of this job deals with nothing but military, plus more than seventy five percent of this company's personnel is prior service. If you came here to try and get away from that, you're in the wrong place dude."
He glanced between me and Tank, and finally settled on me, "Well, this is what I want. If there's any training for me to do, I'll do it. I'm willing to do anything I have to in order to get this job."
"Let me and Tank sit here and talk for a little bit. Wait outside and I'll have him bring you back in once we've made a decision." Viktor nodded his head and walked through the door.
Before I could say anything, Tank had started in, "I don't like him, at all."
"What, why not? I haven't seen or felt anything wrong with him." I saw Tank still looking at the door Viktor had just walked through.
"Well, for one, he's creepy. Did you see the way he was looking at you? He looked at you like Carlos looked at you every day. He claims to have the 'love of his life' tattooed on him, yet he's disrespecting her by comin on to you. I. Don't. Like. Him. Plain and fucking simple."
By the time he was finished, Tank was pacing the length of the office, me just standing there and watching.
"Tank, calm down, it is not that bad. If I didn't feel him being creepy, then you are obviously over exaggerating. What was the second point you wanted to make?"
"We checked his background and everything came back clear, but a chunk of the last year and a half is missing."
"How much of the last year?"
I shook my head and thought back to the thirteen months of my life, how it all went to hell in a hand basket. I lost Carlos, and I didn't know what to do with myself.
"Well, keep trying on getting into the last year and half of him. Till then, he's on a pre-trial for this job. Yes, he'll be getting a full paycheck so don't ask me if we can just not pay him," I heard him say damn under his breath and laughed a little bit. "put him working with Lester and we'll rotate from there."
"Fine, but I'm not going to like it, and when he gets to work with me, I'm going to make him miserable. Just so you know when he comes in here to bitch and complain and shit." He walked and opened the door, calling for Viktor to come in. when he came through the door, tank turned to stand behind him making motions that he was going to kill him. I tried to hold back a laugh, but I epically failed.
"Tank, you know I can tell what you're doing, right?"
Tank dropped his arms and turned to walk out the door, grumbling something about eyes in the back of his head.
"Well, Viktor, here's what's going to happen. You're going to be on a pre-trial for the job. Just to see how you would work with the other guys; see how you take to the working environment. Do you have any questions?"
"No, I think I'm good. When do I start?"
"Now, you'll start working with Lester, if I can find him."
"Tall, Puerto Rican dude outside?" he pointed through the door and sure enough, there he was, unfortunately talking to Tank. Most likely about how Viktor was such a bad guy.
"Come here Lester, you too Tank." I heard him say shit and just shook my head.
"Lester, you've already met Viktor?"
"Yea, we were talking out in the hallway while he was waiting for you to finish up in here. He's pretty cool." Tank swung around and popped him in the back of the head, "Ow! Jesus, did just see what happened, Stephanie? I wanna press charges; coworker brutality!"
"Both of you stop; bunch of kids sometimes, I swear. Lester, you're going to be working with Viktor for a couple of days. Are you ok with that?"
"Yeah, sure, no problem. I'll show him the ropes, want me to go ahead and show him around Trenton too?"
"No, I'll do that, thank you though. Does that sound good to you, Viktor?"
I looked to see him and Tank staring at each other, but it looked Like Tank had lost all hate.
"Hey, you two, what's going on?"
"Nothing Boss. You know I love you, right?" I made a confused face and told him yes.
"Then I wouldn't bother with the pre-trial. Just go ahead and give him the job." He looked back to Viktor and stuck his hand out. "I'm sorry for acting a prick." They let go of each other and Tank left the room.
"Well, that settles it then, I guess. Viktor you got a job here. You'll still be rotating partners for a little bit, but eventually you'll get a set position. And I'm going to show you around Trenton tonight, so you're not completely lost in this city. How does that sound?"
"Sounds perfect. Thank you Miss Plum, I really do appreciate it. This means a lot to me."
"Call me Stephanie, and I know exactly how you feel, don't worry. Lester, help him get his bags up here and into one of the open rooms. Let him get situated and then take him out with you for today, ok?"
"Sure thing boss. Let's go new guy, we got shit to do." I smiled as they walked through the door, thinking to myself about how Carlos would have handled it.
Viktor turned around one more time before he closed the door, "Thanks again, Stephanie."
As he said my name the last time, it sent shivers down my spine. Right then I knew I was in trouble with hiring this guy.