Summary: While on a mission in Brazil, Ranger gets into some serious trouble. Will Steph and the Merry Men be able to rescue him in time to change his fate? BABE. BABE HEA.
Warning: Violence, language and things of a sexual nature.
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters, settings, etc. from the PLUM series are the property of Janet Evanovich. No copyright infringement is intended. I am not making any profit; all credit goes to the aforementioned author.
A/N: This fic was surprisingly inspired by the song "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)". On a side note, this story is complete, and I will be posting updates weekly.
I sat at my desk, staring mindlessly at my computer screen as it ran through a handful of searches for the latest high bond FTAs. I looked down briefly and noticed someone had placed a bowl of minestrone soup, a couple of pieces of garlic bread, and a bottle of water by my elbow. Huh. Pulling the food closer to me, I slowly ate, not tasting anything. I wasn't even hungry; hadn't been in a long while. I was just eating because I knew they were watching me and they were worried about me.
My searches finished, I sent the results to the printer and sat back in my chair. The bowl was half empty now, and I'd had enough, so I pushed it away to the corner of my desk, along with the empty plate. I opened the bottle of water and swallowed half of it in a few long gulps. Standing, I slowly meandered down the hall to the copy room, collecting my searches before I trundled back to my desk. The dishes were gone. Pulling out a highlighter, I set to work.
A throat cleared beside me, startling me out of my zone. I glanced up from the spread of papers before me and raised an eyebrow at Lester.
"Hey Beautiful, its six o'clock. You thinking about heading up soon?" Lester inquired softly.
Surprised, I glanced at my watch. It was a little after six.
"Lost track of time," I mumbled, collecting the papers into a neat stack, turning off my computer and grabbing my purse.
I bumped into Lester, who I hadn't realized was still standing in the entryway to my cubicle.
"Sorry," I said, giving him a weak smile and stepping around him. His hand on my arm made me stop. I turned back to face him and found myself in a tight hug.
"He's okay, Steph. He's the best of the best," Lester assured me. I blinked back tears that were threatening to fall. I couldn't cry here. Once I started it was hours before I could stop. That was something best reserved for the privacy of the apartment. "He has you to come home to, so I know he'll do what he has to do to come back to you," he added. A muffled sob escaped my lips.
"Thanks, Les," I sniffled, breaking away from him and rushing to the elevator
The trip up to the seventh floor was swift. My hand shook as I tried to press my key fob to unlock the apartment door. Finally managing it, I quickly shut the door behind me and let my tears fall. Dropping my purse in the foyer, I kicked off my shoes and made my way into the bedroom. I crawled into our bed and pulled his pillow close to me, finally letting myself breakdown. It had been eight months since Ranger had gone in the wind. Five months since he'd missed the first check in, and every one following. The day he'd gone in the wind, he'd asked me to move in with him; asked if I'd be willing to give us a try now that Morelli was out of the picture. It had been both one of the happiest and saddest days of my life. I'd finally gotten him and then I'd had to say goodbye. Now it was possibly there'd never be an us. I'd never told him how I felt, three small words that seemed so hard to say, but now I would proudly shout from a roof top. Every day I regretted not telling him I loved him.
I love you, Ranger. Please come home soon.
Loud sobs racked my body as I cried myself to sleep.
It was still dark when I awoke. Glancing at the clock on his bedside table, I noted it was quarter to four. Getting up, I slowly showered and dressed in a sports bra, one of Ranger's t-shirts and a pair of spandex shorts. I reheated the dinner Ella had left for me last night, and forced myself to eat half of it. I set the dishes in the sink, grabbed my key fob out of my purse from the sideboard table where it now sat. The elevator trip down to the first underground floor was quick. I entered the empty gym, climbed on the treadmill furthest from the door and set it for five miles. When the treadmill beeped, I was barely out of breath, my body coated in a thin sheen of sweat. That's what happened when you ran every day, I guess, you got fit. I slowed down to a walk, warming down my muscles. Some of the other guys had slowly made their way into the gym while I'd been running. They all knew my schedule and it looked like Ram had volunteered to be my sparring buddy for the day. Killing the treadmill, I made my way over to the mat, stripped my shirt off, removed my shoes and ducked under the rope barrier.
"Morning, Steph," Ram greeted me with a big smile. He, Lester, Bobby and Tank were the only ones who didn't treat me like I was going to fall apart at the drop of the hat. Ram had been the one to teach me how to spar. I now knew quite a few defensive styles of combat and martial arts styles; however Krav Maga was up at the top as one of my favourites.
"Morning, Ram. Did you have a good day off yesterday?" I wondered, doing a few quick stretches.
"Spent the day with my girlfriend," he admitted almost shyly.
"How is Sarah, I haven't seen her in a couple of weeks?" I asked.
Since I'd started working at Rangeman full time I'd gotten to know the guys steady girlfriends. Sarah and I got on well and had been shopping and out to lunch a handful of times together. She'd become a really good friend to me, cheering me up on my worst days.
"She's good, asked when I'd drag you away from your desk so you two could go shopping together," he laughed, finishing his stretching and facing me.
"I'm just on call tomorrow, but you know how things change at the drop of a hat around here. I'll talk to Tank and see if I can get a definite day off next week," I promised, cracking my neck as I waited patiently.
"Good. So what'll it be today? Karate, Jujutsu, Boxing, Krav Maga?" Ram questioned, listing off some of the styles he'd taught me.
We'd just recently started a new style that I was enjoying. "Capoeira," I suggested. He nodded, a small smile on his face.
We easily fell into a sort of rhythm, Ram correcting my technique where he thought I could improve. We both landed some good strikes and after half an hour, called it quits.
I made my way back up to the seventh floor, feeling better than I had in a long time. Today was going to be a good day.
Showered and dressed in my standard Rangeman uniform, I was down on the fifth floor by six. Dropping my purse at my desk, I casually walked into the control room, checking things out.
"Anyone want a break?" I volunteered, giving a small smile to Caesar, Benny and Hector.
"Gracias, Señora," Hector replied, holding out his seat for me.
I smiled and quickly sat down, "De nada," I murmured as Hector pressed a kiss to my forehead and swaggered out of the room. Hector may not speak any English, but I knew he understood it. He'd been teaching me a few Spanish phrases to surprise Ranger with. The tear drops hardly even bothered me anymore. He was a scary dude, but he was nice to me, so I could roll with the whole gang thing.
Half an hour later, I was back at my desk, powering up my computer. I'd just opened my emails when there was a knock on my cubicle. I turned quickly and frowned as I met Tank's grim face.
"Tank? What's up?" I wondered as he folded his arms and leant against the side of my cubicle. It made an ominous creaking noise, but held strong.
"You got a few minutes?" he asked gruffly.
I nodded slowly and stood on shaky legs. He pressed a hand to my lower back and guided me toward his office. We entered and he quietly shut the door behind us.
There was a man standing behind Tank's desk. Tall, well built, in a navy coloured suit. He stood rigid with his hands clasped firmly behind his back looking out the window. His posture screamed military.
"Stephanie, this is Justin Caver. He's Ranger's handler," Tank announced. I bit my bottom lip, to stop it from wobbling. I could already feel myself starting to panic; tears where threatening.
"Please take a seat, Miss Plum," the man instructed without turning around to face me. His tone was no nonsense.
Taking a deep calming breath, I wearily sat in one of the chairs in front of the desk.
It's okay, Steph. Ranger's fine. He's okay. Pull yourself together.
"Miss Plum –"
"Stephanie, please," I whispered hoarsely, swallowing nervously.
"Stephanie," he acknowledged with a slight incline of his head. "There's been a royal fuckup and we now have an unfortunate situation," he continued, slowly turning to face me. His face was just as ruggedly handsome as the rest of him, yet I didn't find myself attracted to him. He had a hard edge; bitter, like he'd seen and done too much. Probably had. I figured he was five, maybe six years older than me.
I took another deep breath, rolled my shoulders back and pinned the man with my eyes.
"Is Ranger alive?" I asked quietly.
"We believe so, yes," he replied.
I rose to my feet, folding my arms across my chest as I continued to stare at him.
"You believe so? You don't know? Christ, I thought the government was supposed to know everything," I snarled.
Caver advanced on me, poking his finger against my chest.
"Now look here little lady," he growled.
In one swift motion I grabbed his right wrist and swept his right leg out from under him, wrenching his arm around behind his back, dropping him to the floor.
"Do not fuck with me," I warned, dropping his arm and stepping back from him. I heard Tank chuckle.
"Shit, I should have known you'd be trained to kick my ass. Did Ranger tell you I was slow on my right?" he asked, getting to his feet and rubbing his wrist.
"Ranger has never mentioned you. You have a slight limp. It's good to know he's kicked your ass," I snapped.
"Bombshell, relax. Caver was in the Rangers with us. He's a good guy; don't hold being a spook against him. Sitting behind a desk all day is making him slow," Tank smirked, clapping Caver a few times on the back.
"So was it intelligence you gave Ranger that caused him to be in this FUBAR situation?" I demanded taking a step closer to him. Tank sidled over to me and draped his heavy arm across my shoulders, tucking me against his body. I growled under my breath.
"No, ma'am. You have the CIA to thank for that idiocy," Caver answered, smiling slightly as he glanced between Tank and me.
"Caver is here to help us get Ranger back, Steph. I think it's time to let the man speak. Then you can ask questions, alright?" Tank said, giving me a gentle squeeze.
I gave a brisk nod and folded myself back into my chair. Caver moved behind the desk and sat in Tank's chair. I felt Tank standing somewhere behind me.
"Stephanie, what I'm about to tell you is highly classified information," Caver began, before I interrupted him. Again.
"Can we cut through the bullshit? I work in a building full of ex-military men; I think I can comprehend when something is classified and what that means," I grumbled. Caver gave a nod and a small smile.
"You're not Ranger's usual type," Caver commented, considering me.
"If by that you mean big breasted supermodels with one brain cell between them, then you're right, I have at least two brain cells, all to myself," I sassed, a smile playing on my lips.
Both Tank and Caver laughed.
"I like you. You'll keep Ranger on his toes," Caver added, his eyes locking with Tank's over my shoulder.
"Told you," Tank grunted. Caver nodded slowly.
"For the past two years, we've been monitoring a situation in Brazil. We've been tracking the movements of an organization led by a man identified as Thiago Medeiros. There have been quite a number of disappearances of young to middle aged men, all healthy, strong, and handsome from villages, towns and cities all over Brazil. We sent a team in on a reconnaissance mission and discovered Medeiros was running a large scale people smuggling operation. He owns a large chunk of land in North Eastern Brazil in which he runs a very successful banana plantation, producing sixty precent of all of Brazil's banana exports. He uses this business as a cover. All the workers on the farm are the people he's smuggling out around the world to the rich and wealthy as workers, sex slaves, you name it. Following so far?" Caver paused, flashing me a smile.
"Yes," I returned quickly. I could already imagine how Ranger fit into all this; I just wanted to know what had happened to him and how to get him back.
"Good. Medeiros has a lot of friends in high places. When he wants to send out a special shipment, officials' pockets are lined and his shipping crates leave the country with no inspection. He has bribed other officials in the States, China, Japan, and a number of countries in Europe so his crates don't get inspected there either. It is a very successful operation," Caver concluded thoughtfully.
"So did you send Ranger in to destroy it or gather more evidence?" I queried quietly.
"He was sent in to infiltrate the organization and gather enough evidence to lock Medeiros, the members of his organization, and as many dirty politicians and officials as possible away for quite some time. His assignment was also to determine the exact locations of where Medeiros sent the shipments to and who the contacts were on the other side that made sure his packages got delivered to the right people," Caver explained.
"So what happened?" I asked, turning everything over in my mind.
"Medeiros started getting suspicious. He leaked some false information that found its way easily into the CIA's hands. Ranger was sent straight into an ambush."
"Fuck!" I cursed softy, shaking my head.
"As you can imagine, he was captured, beaten, tortured and from what we can gather, has been put to work on the plantation. We've sent in a few other agents to infiltrate the organization; they all ended up dead. We believe it was because they didn't fit the 'criteria'," Caver finished.
I sat quietly for a few moments, thinking over everything Caver had told me. I had a pretty good idea of what I thought my roll was going to be in this, but I wanted to make sure.
"So, these buyers, do they ever visit the plantation and hand pick out the ones they want?" I questioned softly, watching Caver quietly.
"So what's the catch?" I demanded, climbing out of my chair to pace in front of the desk.
"Excuse me?" Caver bristled.
"The catch? You're the government; there is always a catch. No one does anything for free. You wouldn't just tell us all this information so we could go in there and rescue Ranger without there being a catch," I reasoned calmly.
"The deal, Bombshell, is that you pose as an interested, wealthy buyer that is considering doing regular business with Medeiros. You go in with a team, purchase Ranger and get the hell out of dodge. The catch is, that you need to gather the information Ranger was supposed to collect," Tank murmured quietly, his face unreadable. I couldn't tell whether or not he thought it was a good deal or a bad one. I for one thought it was bullshit.
"No deal. I want to renegotiate the terms," I retorted, placing my hands on my hips as I glared at both men. A small smile appeared on Tank's face, before he quickly smothered it. That was all I needed to know I was doing the right thing.
"There is no renegotiation," Caver said, frowning. "Don't you want Ranger back? You've been moping around for months, heartbroken." I froze, my blood boiling as my anger levels shot through the roof.
"You bastard," Tank muttered.
"You've known for months where they've been holding Ranger! You've been following me around, gathering intel on me while you jackasses could have already gone in and fucking rescued him! And don't even try that fucking reverse psychology bullshit on me, pal! Whether it's under the government's jurisdiction or not, we will be rescuing Ranger. We have a lot of friends in high and low places that would be willing to help us out. It will be on your head for refusing to negotiate with us," I fumed, slamming my hands down on the desk for impact.
Caver sat down in his chair and remained silent for a few minutes. I resumed my pacing.
"The guys may have friends in high places, but I don't believe you do. You would be integral to the operation and I'm sure we could detain your exit from the country for months, maybe even years," Caver spoke softly and menacingly. I hated being threatened and underestimated.
"Look here Caver, you no good piece of shit," Tank started.
"Tank. I got it," I murmured, a small smile playing on my lips.
When negotiating, I found it was always useful to keep an ace up your sleeve. And boy, did I have an ace. Not even Tank knew about it. I'd only found out about it myself a couple of years ago when Ranger mentioned my dad had been in the military. Daddy and I had had a long heart to heart. What I'd learned in that afternoon would make my mom drink herself into a coma. Daddy hadn't just been in the military. He was still in the military, in a very high position of power. He had a secret office setup in the garage at home and frequently flew the short distance to Washington DC and home again without my mom being any the wiser.
"Who's your supervisor, Caver?" I asked.
"I'm not at liberty –"
"Bullshit. Let's see, intelligence, but not CIA. You were in the Rangers, so you'd still be army. That would mean you report to Lieutenant General Johnson. Excellent," I drawled, pulling out my phone.
"How the fuck did you know that? That's classified information," Caver protested. I smirked to myself.
Tank and Caver both watched as I hit speed dial two.
"Pumpkin, something wrong?" dad inquired. This was the first time I'd called him on his cell phone; I was only to call it in case of an emergency.
"Yep. I have a little problem here at Rangeman that I think you might be the perfect man to sort out. Are you in town or DC?" I asked. It would make it somewhat more difficult if he was in DC, but I'm sure myself, Tank, a team from Rangeman and Caver could all make the little trip together.
"I'm in Trenton. Be there in fifteen."
"Thanks, daddy. See you soon," I replied, hanging up. "Now we wait," I addressed Caver and Tank.
I called the control room and informed them my dad would be here soon and to let him up into Tank's office.
Flopping back into my chair, Tank crouched down in front of me.
"No offense, Steph. But I don't see how your daddy can help us out right now," Tank whispered. He thought I was just trying to call Caver's bluff. I had a much more effective method than that.
"You will, Tank."
Twelve minutes later, there was a brisk knock on the door before my dad entered.
"General Plumerri, sir," Caver saluted briskly, standing at attention.
"At ease, Caver," he stated, before standing behind my chair and placing his hands on my shoulders.
"Thanks for coming, dad," I said, tilting my head back and smiling sweetly at my father. Caver started spluttering loudly. Dad bent down and pressed a kiss to my forehead. He was wearing a nicely pressed black on grey suit. It made him look very official.
"What's the situation, Pumpkin?" dad asked, dropping into the seat beside me, before nodding at Tank.
"Ranger has been captured while on a mission thanks to bad intelligence. I don't like the deal Caver is offering me to extract him. I want to renegotiate," I summarised briefly.
I watched my dad's face turn from red to purple and back to red again.
"And you didn't think to mention any of this to me, Caver? I specifically requested to be briefed on Manoso's progress. This is a direct violation of a superior officer's request and you can bet I'll be writing you up on it! Now why aren't you negotiating with my daughter?" dad barked out. I had to admit it, I was impressed.
"S-sir, I don't have my supervising officer's permission to renegotiate the terms of –"
"You have my permission. If Johnson has a problem with that he can take it up with me. If my daughter gets hurt under your watch, Caver, you'll find yourself out of a job before you can say general discharge!" dad barked, standing once more and facing me. "I think you can handle it from here, Pumpkin. Be safe, and bring that man of yours home. God knows your mother will want him over for dinner," he added softly, kissing me before exiting the room.
I smiled to myself; I loved my dad.
Tank collapsed into the chair next to me and held out his fist. I bumped his casually and turned to face Caver with narrowed eyes.
"Are you ready to renegotiate the deal now?" I asked quietly.
"What are your terms?" Caver wearily questioned, rubbing a hand over his face before he sat back in his chair.
"I will require a plausible alias, significant funding in a few bank accounts to back up my alias, and a large amount of money in cash that can be used to buy Ranger or to buy us out of trouble at any time. My team and I will be armed and will have access to anything we deem required to successfully complete this mission. I will be choosing the team that goes with me. It will not include any person from any government agency. I will wear a wire and gather all the intel you require. In return, I want all of Ranger's government contracts deemed fulfilled and for him to receive any payments that he was to obtain on their completion. He will get an honourable discharge from duty if, when we bring him back, he so wishes it." I folded my arms across my chest and waited.
"What about payment for your services?" Caver wondered, not giving anything away yet.
"I can't speak for the members of my team; however the fulfilling of Ranger's contracts will be more than satisfactory for my payment," I murmured.
"Who are the team members you have in mind?" Caver said, almost thoughtfully.
I sat quietly for a moment, weighing up the pros and cons of each of Ranger's men. It all came down to who I trusted, who I knew Ranger trusted and who I had seen in action.
"Tank, Lester, Bobby, Ram and Bones," I answered shortly. Tank was the muscle, Lester was agile and sneaky, Bobby was an excellent shooter, Ram was just plain badass and he knew security systems like the back of his hand, and Bones was pretty handy to have around if someone was injured.
"Ranger was to receive ten million dollars at the completion of this mission. If you and your team are successful, that money will go to you to divvy up as you see fit."
My mind boggled.
Ten million dollars for gathering information on a people smuggling operation?
Holy shit, no wonder the government was broke.
Caver continued, "As for your other requirements, they can be met. I expect you and your team to report to DC tomorrow, 0900 hours –"
"I don't think you understood me, Caver. This is our operation. There will be no government interference. The only part you or your friends in DC will play is supplying us the details on how to get in contact with Medeiros, all the information you have on his setup, equipment, and the financial backing. I also want our agreement in writing signed by your superiors," I requested.
"As you wish, Ma'am," Caver ground out through clenched teeth.
"I expect you, the contract, and the file on Medeiros to report back here tomorrow 0900. We'll then brief you on our other requirements and our envisioned plan of attack. Until tomorrow, Caver," I said, standing and holding out my hand.
He begrudgingly shook it.
"Bombshell, how about you get the guys together while I show Caver out?" Tank wondered. I gave him a small smile, and escaped from the office.
My mind was reeling. Ranger was alive and we were going to bring him home.
To be continued...