Chapter 68: Relief at last

Steph's POV—Tuesday Morning

The difficult discussions are finished. Now for the fun ones. Danny and I decide to hold his discussion outside on the porch.

"Trying to avoid the bugs?" I tease.

Danny laughs. "Nah. Unnecessary now. Hal called the office and reinstated the audio and video monitoring."

I shake my head. "Why am I not surprised? Ok, Danny, hit me. What do you need?"

"A way to convince the CO to stop poaching my men!" We laugh and I write that down and underline it, which makes Danny grin. "No, seriously, we're d oing great in Atlanta. My concerns all centered on Charlotte, but since you intend to move Armando there for six weeks, I can discuss those concerns with him. Make sure he's fully aware of what needs to happen at that location."

"What needs to happen there?"

Danny riffles through his folio and hands me a list. "I'll hit the major points. First, Chase found space that he thinks will work. We forwarded the specs to Bobby for review and it would be good for Mando to coordinate with Bobby and Tank on reviewing our top three picks." I nod and make some notes.

"Two: the men we are hiring are good, but since this is being treated as a brand new branch, we need a Lester-type there reviewing the men. We don't want to make mistakes in hiring."

I nod. "Who do you have doing the training?"

"No one yet. Everyone reports to Charlotte from Atlanta. It's kind of a 'one week in ATL, one week in Charlotte' thing, so I can keep an eye on them. Training happens from Atlanta, but it needs to move to Charlotte and that's where it gets sticky." I look up and Danny has sobered. "My instinct was to move Marcus, my partner, there for it. He's a former cop and MP and he's good at training. Head of bonds enforcement." I nod. "But . . . I don't know. I guess I want a decision from you or Lester on that. You know what's needed."

I snort. "Les knows what's needed." I sober and look at him. "Do you feel that Marcus is the right person for this job?"

Danny sits back and considers it. Finally, he nods. "Yes. I think if Marcus had Lester's checklist or an understanding of what Lester does, he could do the job."

"Do you have someone who can take over bonds enforcement in Atlanta?"

"Lance. I know you didn't spend a lot of time with him, but he's second in command in the group. He's prepared."

I lean back and think. "OK, talk to Les and Armando about it. If they're OK, then I'm OK. Now, say I gave you free rein over the company. You could pull men from any location. Who would you pull for Charlotte and why? Take some time, think about it. I'm going to grab a snack. You want anything?"

"Fruit is fine."

I go to the kitchen and get some water and fruit. When I return, Danny is writing a list.

"OK, so if I could have anyone?" I nod. "Mike from Boston would be the ideal XO. I've met him a few times. He's second in command to Victor there and he's a force and he needs an opportunity. If he were to go there and train under Mando to prep to take that office, I would stick him there. If Mark could be trusted to train Mike, I'd stick him there." I'm writing notes on all his suggestions. "I think Vince in Trenton would be an ideal liaison from everything I've heard Hal say about him but . . ." Danny grins wickedly. I groan and hang my head but I have to agree. Vince and Ram are very alike. It would be a good fit.

"I'll think about it. Strategist?"

"You won't believe me on this one." I look up and Danny is chuckling. "Mack."

I lean back and laugh. I look at Danny and we both start laughing. Javi and Hal both stick their heads out the door in confusion and I wave them off.

"OK, you are definitely going to have to explain that one."

Danny wipes his eyes and smiles. "Now that Mack understands how the pipeline math works, he's become a beast in the NYC office. Javi brags that he has the perfect mix. Jorge can handle the high finance stuff while Mack handles the street. Plus, Mack has the street skills needed to cultivate contacts and keep the men in check. He's just not polished enough to be in front of the high finance clients."

"Hence Vince as the liaison," I finish.

Danny grins. "You know, a little known and little redeemed benefit of RangeMan employment is tuition reimbursement. I push it as much as I can in my office and, I might be wrong here but, I think if you were to encourage Mack to get a degree with an eye to developing him for a leadership position in the company, he'd enroll somewhere the next day."

I nod. "Give me a second pick for each."

"Liaison? Mase from Boston. Strategist? Mario from Miami."

I lean back and sigh. "I hesitate to put anyone from Boston anywhere until I assess that office."

"Then don't. Assess them. Get to know them, spend some time with them. Your 'spidey-senses' are legendary. See what you think. I could be wrong all the way around. I keep calling guys from Boston because I've met quite a few of them and Mark does train his men for leadership positions. He's always cultivating his men. They would be ready to take on any duty from day one."

"Yeah, but are they willing to take orders from anyone besides Mark?" I mutter under my breath.

Danny sobers. "Good point. Now, believe it or not, that's also Mando's biggest strength. Mando excels at developing men for leadership and even Mark gave him credit for that one yesterday. Look at Diego." I nod. I like Diego a lot. "I think, honestly, that part of Mando's problem is he's in an office where he can't develop anyone. At least, not anyone other than the men he's already worked with. The rest are sexist assholes and he's not developing them to take leadership positions anywhere in the company."

I sigh and slouch in the chair. "I know Javi will scream bloody murder if I move Mack. Now that they have an understanding between them, Mack has become 'major' in the NYC office." Danny and I laugh. "I don't want to hold him back from opportunities but I also don't want to move someone who is so instrumental in helping the rebuild in NYC." I lean back and blow a breath. "I need to think on that one."

Danny and I munch on the fruit while I review my notes. Finally, I flip to a new page. Time to get an answer to a question that's been plaguing me. I lean back and smile. "I do want to see more support for each other in this group, which leads to my next question. Why isn't Armando in the gang of three I see?"

Danny sobers and leans back. "I don't know. I really can't answer that. I guess, if I had to take a guess, that it's because a) he's all the way in Miami; b) we didn't know how tight he and Mark really were; and c) we have a hard time trusting his men. We wondered if he shared their feelings about women."

I nod. "And? What have you learned?"

"Well, we know now that Armando is nowhere near as bad as his office. It's clear he responds to your authority and accepts it. Diego made it clear to the other strategists that that was never a problem among the Miami Leadership." Good. "So, for me, it really came down to his relationship with Mark, especially since the Miami men are the next nosiest group in the company. Mark is definitely at the top, but the Miami men as a whole will wear you down to get information."

I lean back. So again, Armando was correct about his men.

"When I met Hal, I was hoping to cultivate an ally in this company and I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I consider Hal both a personal friend and a professional colleague and ally. I hope I'm helping him and much as both you and he have helped me." I smile. "When you asked us to help Javi and provide him support, we just reached out to him and started treating him as we treat each other." Danny shrugs then smiles. "So, you'd like us to bring Mando in?"

"And Mark." Danny's smile drops. "I know, I know, but I want you to consider this: If Mark had allies then he would have had someone besides Patrick and Rodney to be able to look him in the eyes and tell him he was doing something stupid. At the end of the day, Pat and Rod followed their XO. It doesn't excuse them, but"–I shrug–"they followed orders."

Danny frowns. "Nuremburg defense." I stare at him and he smiles. "The 'I was just following orders, sir' defense."

"Oh. Right. Yeah, which is why it doesn't excuse them. They could have called me or Leadership Core. But Mark needs equals to tell him he's wrong and Mando needs support. Mando needs someone to vent to and bounce ideas off just like you guys do with each other. The Miami men have nearly worn Mando down. I wasn't joking about Armando being close to the edge. He really was. I think all the support and encouragement he's gotten lately has helped, but he still needs someone to bolster him. I think he might have come to some decisions sooner if he'd had his colleagues all saying the same thing to him."

Danny nods thoughtfully.

"Mando's biggest problem?" Danny looks up, intrigued. "He didn't feel like it was his office. He didn't know what chain of command was going to look like in his office when Ranger came back. You, of all the XOs, could have helped him with that. It would have made his life much easier and given him a benchmark. After all, Bobby will someday move back to Atlanta, but you've always had control of your office, or at least more control than Mando had of his."

Danny is smiling now.

"You control and conduct business in your office like you should, which is even more impressive when you consider you were never active military. You were reserves, but that office runs like Trenton."

Danny grins. "I tell my men that Trenton is the standard. That's how I want the office to function."

"Exactly. You have clear authority in your office. Mando lost his. Help him."

Danny opens his folio and makes a few notes. I can see my words have really helped him, so I decide to go one further.

"I know that, in years, Mark is the senior XO, but I don't consider him the senior XO. I consider you the senior XO."

Danny looks up in shock. I nod.

"You are the XO I call on when I have questions about RangeMan policies and procedures. I count on your opinion and expertise to help me move this company. I gave you a golden opportunity a moment ago to promote your men and instead you gave me the names of other men around the company. Again, doing what's right for the company, not just your branch or your men. Most importantly, you are mentoring and supporting Hal and Javi. I could call it a lot of things, but that's what you're doing and you're doing a good job of it. You three have become a clique. Mark and Armando need that. I would like you to help me help them."

Danny looks stunned. Finally, he smiles. "You see, this is why I don't attempt to anticipate your moves."

I laugh. "You and Hal are the XOs who I've been able to trust from Day 1. I don't have to question your motives. I know that you want me to succeed. That's the way Hal feels. He has an XO he can count on, someone within the company who can tell him right from wrong. That's what a senior XO should be: a person who can encourage and motivate, someone a newbie can feel comfortable asking for an opinion." I smile and lean in close. Danny leans in close to hear me. "Hal's greatest fear is disappointing Tank. Just as it means the world to me that Ranger believes I can do this job, it means the world to Hal that Tank believed in him. He is determined not to mess up. I can tell that you are intent on pleasing Bobby. The two of you are very similar, which brings me to my next question."

"Shoot."

"I'm headed to Boston at the end of August for their review. I would like for you and Jorge to accompany me."

Danny frowns. "Not Hal? Or Manny?"

I shake my head. "Anger in Trenton is too high. Hal wouldn't be able to stay calm. He would continue to think of ways to break Mark and his men. Same with Manny. You're calmer. I'm not fooled; I know you're just as angry as Hal, but you can stay calmer in Mark's presence. You manage to remain in his presence longer than five minutes. Has Hal managed that yet?"

Danny smiles and shakes his head. "Nope."

"Exactly."


Javier's POV—Wednesday Morning

I'm nervous about my meeting with Steph. Danny left his meeting yesterday and was quiet for the rest of the day. Even Hal wasn't able to get him to say much, except that he had a lot of thinking to do. Hal and I looked at each other and shrugged. Danny will tell us in his own time.

It's raining today and Steph's been looking out the window and pouting all morning. No beach for her. We're all stranded inside.

"Javi?"

I turn. Steph has her legal pad, so we head to the sunroom and curl up on the couches. I love talking to Steph. I no longer feel as if she's getting frustrated with me, and she understands. It's like talking to Les without the threat of blades appearing.

"So, NYC rebuild." She grins. "How's it going?

I grin. I love talking about the branch with her. "I need more men!" We both laugh. I can't believe I'm actually at a point where I can say that and it's not about stemming bleeding. "Seriously Steph! I need more men and I need more space! Jorge got slick. Since we're on fee schedules in the business investigations unit, he basically told our clients that we had all the work we needed and we weren't taking new clients. I got nervous because we weren't at 50% yet with the offering, but he said that with these guys, who are used to getting everything they want, being told 'No' is the ultimate boner."

Steph falls out laughing.

"He wasn't lying. He raised the prices 30% and we got twice as many calls, twice as much interest."

Steph's mouth falls open.

"Exactly! Plus, we just sent our first few teams out and, man oh man, the portfolios those guys brought back? I mean, Jorge showed them how he wanted it repackaged, to look better, but"–I whistle–"we're nearly crushed under the interest. We're booked solid for the next 14 months! My men are joking about frequent flier miles."

"Ok, so how many more men do you need?"

"I'd say 15. I want to keep the operation lean, but we're sending out teams of three and five. 15 guys would be perfect. Plus, they still need to meet standards and I'm keeping an eye on that." Steph nods and makes a note. "Also, corporate credit cards would help and an accountant solely devoted to our branch. My men are passing back serious expense reports for me to approve, so I need someone in Miami I can call who is clear about the needs of our branch."

Steph smiles. "I'll look at the numbers, but if you feel this is what you need, start hiring. I'll work with Ryan on everything else. Biggest thing I need you to do is get a leader for this group. That person will need to know how to move this offering and they'll need to feel comfortable calling on the other XOs for men. This will probably turn into a company-wide offering based from NYC, so be prepared to turn this into a cross-company group. In the meantime, Trenton is definitely a place to look for men for this. Start developing a group of men you can call on and I'll ask Hector to put a community out in RangeWorld for you."

I grin. Absolution. I told her what I needed and I got everything I asked for plus some.

"How's Jorge settling in? Standards-wise?"

"Adam has him in the range in the morning and Mack is working on his hand to hand in the afternoons. He's getting there fast and he's bragging about his four-pack." We laugh. "Adam suggested Krav Maga for all of us, so Mack, Jorge, and I signed up at a NYC dojo. It's not bad. I thought of you during the first lesson."

"It's been suggested I sign up."

"I agree. I think you'd be a natural."

"OK. Well, anything else you want to tell me?"

"Other than the men want you to visit, not review just yet?" Steph smiles. "They really do want to see you again before the review."

"I'll try. Can't promise. OK, so I have three things for you."

I open my new folio and wait.

"First, I want Jorge to accompany me to Boston at the end of August for their review."

I sit back and think about it. "Because he's new?"

"Yes. And because he needs to see the Boston office. Until the last few weeks, it was the most well-run, efficient office in this company. It was the benchmark. I want him to see it and I want his instincts to help me assess them."

"OK. Understood." Right. Before Mark fucked up, none of us could deny that his office was efficient and well-run. Jorge will be thrilled that Steph is asking for his expertise. My bro has definitely gotten some of his old fire back. For the two of us, it's like being 18 again, ready to take on the world.

"Two, Adam tells me he may have found a liaison for you."

"Right. Drake. I've met him before."

"You OK trying him out?"

"He's already there. I'm trusting Adam's opinion with this. If Adam recommends him, I'm more than willing to give him an audition."

"Great. Three. Mack."

I raise an eyebrow. Mack and I have really gotten tight since Les suggested we become partners. It's been . . . odd and refreshing. Hell, Mack, Jorge and I are a trio at the moment. We joke about being 'The Untouchables'.

"I have a problem. I've been advised to give Mack a try as a strategist, but he's so instrumental to the rebuilding of your branch that I don't want to move him. I want your thoughts on this."

Had to be Danny who recommended him, which means Steph will take the recommendation seriously. "Well, I'm of two minds. You know he's my partner now?" She nods. "I want to keep him but . . . I don't want to hold him back from opportunities. I think he needs some polish before becoming a strategist. Even if he didn't want to be in front of clients all the time, as a member of the top leadership in a branch, you have to be prepared for the possibility. Even in his current position, he really needs to be prepared to step in for Jorge at a moment's notice."

"OK. I'll leave him in NYC but I'm going to call him tonight. I want him to enroll in college, get a degree and some polish. I'd like you and Jorge to help him there. He's helping you in the branch, with the business and ensuring your authority?" I smile. That's true. "I'm not sure how men do these things, but give him some polish. Develop your men. Make sure that you have a group of leaders in your branch that are prepared to take charge at a moment's notice."

I make a note. As usual, Steph is right. There are plenty of reasons why I need to ensure that my mid-level guys can handle being thrown in any situation. I think I'll add that to all the 'standards' practice we have in the branch. Workshops on elocution, deportment, all that stuff Mom made me take as a kid so it would never seem as if she raised some ignorant hood. I grin. My men are gonna feel weird trying to hold tea cups with two fingers.

I look up and Steph's laughing. "It's not unusual to be loved by anyone, It's not unusual to have fun with anyone, But when I see you hanging about with anyone —"

I slide out of the chair and roll on the ground laughing. Steph and I laugh till we cry. Finally, I look up and all the XOs are outside looking at us as if we've lost our minds. I look over at Steph, who is finally calming down.

"Sorry. Oh god, Javi, I'm so sorry, it's just–" She's still giggling and I pull her to her feet and give her a hug.

"Oh believe me, I found it just as funny. Anyone else, I might have attempted to break their legs, but I was thinking the same thing."


Hal's POV—Wednesday afternoon

Sis said she wanted to go ahead and have my discussion today, which was fine. After watching her and Javi collapse in laughter, I'm wondering what's happening in these discussions. Again, Javi didn't want to discuss his yet; he said he needed to think about some of the things Sis mentioned.

I'm noticing that there's a sense of calmness in the house. All of us are taking notes, looking back through the notes we have from Sis, and making plans. After Javi's interview, Danny pulled all of us, even Mark, together and said he'd like to have an XO meeting Thursday afternoon. Just us, to talk about the company, what we're seeing at our level and what we think needs to happen. Sis said that Friday morning is usually the wrap up, where we give her the big things we need her to move on, and Danny wants us to be prepared with company-wide needs, not floundering around trying to get a consensus. Especially since that's the last day of Sis's rental and we'll need to ensure that everything is clean and ready for her to pass the keys back.

Candy was contacted by Ryan today and informed that he would send her new hire paperwork immediately. Since she would be reporting directly to the CO instead of an XO, there really wasn't a formal mechanism in place for her hiring, so he was going to send the usual paperwork to start the process. Candy's eyebrows shot up at that and she asked for a legal pad to take notes. I went online and ordered her a new leather folio, a surprise gift for her first day.

"Hal?"

"Hm . . . ?" I'm trying to make last minute notes. Sis and I are meeting in 30 minutes.

"Can you ask Steph if I can have some time for a formal interview also?" I look at Candy, who looks uncertain.

"Sure." I'm curious but I'm trying not to ask.

Candy grins. "I want to know what she wants me to start work on first. There are a lot of things related to HR that need to be done and I want her to set my priorities."

Ah! "OK. I'll make sure I bring that up." Candy kisses my cheek and goes back to writing notes. Freakin' sound monitoring and full house. Otherwise . . . I drag my eyes away from Candy's butt. I don't need the temptation when I can't do anything about it right now.

I head downstairs to the sunroom. Sis is still pouting, looking out the window in the kitchen.

"Too dangerous."

"I've chased skips in this kind of weather," Sis says, turning around. I open my mouth and she cuts me off. "Nope. I don't want a list of all the disasters that have happened when I tried to apprehend in the rain. I can see you're gearing up to tell me."

I grin. She's absolutely right. There were seven and they get funnier with each telling. I take her hand and gently drag her from the window to the sunroom. Danny passes her legal pads on the way, doing his best to hide a smile. We sit and Sis grins.

"Sometimes, I really do feel as if I'm your little sister to be dragged places."

"Does it keep me from being stunned?" I keep an eye out for the location of her stun gun. Always.

"Most of the time," she replies. I grin and flip to a new page in my folio and wait.

"OK, so this is our time to talk about Trenton and what you need. I want you to forget that I'm there and tell me what you see."

I smile. "Well, we're too lean for our operations but I can't afford to hire right now until I get an idea of how many men are coming back from Texas." Sis looks confused. "I already know that Chester Deuce is staying. Bobby is training him to be the liaison and he likes it there. So, that's one man down. I need a status on the remaining six." Sis nods and starts writing notes. "Jim, Gene, and Chet are looking like possibles to stay in Texas. Once I have an idea, I'm going to need to hire at least 10 men, maybe more."

"Contract guys?"

"Slotted in, but I don't want to do it for too long. Even contract guys and part-timers start wondering if there's the possibility of long-term employment if you leave them there too long."

"Good point."

"Something Ram and I have been thinking of is hiring disabled vets."

Sis grins. "So have I. What are you thinking?"

"Well, I definitely want to talk with Leadership Core about it, but Ram's always questioned the efficiency of having able-bodied men sitting on the monitors instead of out in the field. It would be great to support our brothers-in-arms who may be short an arm, or leg"–Steph giggles–"by showing that we haven't forgotten them, that we haven't left them behind. I think we'd also need to talk with Candy about making sure the buildings are ADA-compliant if we do that, but think of the great pool of men we could pull from if we hire disabled vets."

Steph nods, smiling. "I agree. I've been thinking of that too and it would mean we could switch our current men to more active stuff. Even the research department at each branch could be supplemented by disabled vets running those searches. Maybe doing surveillance in the field."

I grin. Sis gets it. Great! I thought it was a brilliant idea when Manny and Ram suggested it and, as the former head of the department, Ram's opinion definitely carried weight. He has an entire list of things a disabled vet could do at RangeMan. I just wanted Steph's opinion and approval before bringing this up to Leadership Core. Their vision is that every man can hold his own in the field. Well, we aren't active duty anymore; someone needs to be able to hold the office while everyone's in the field.

"Otherwise, we're growing. The Hospitality stuff is great and we're making lots of money with that. Ram is going after as many contracts as he can and Jorge gave him the OK to go after stuff in the NYC area. Since the NYC branch isn't offering it yet, it's good to go ahead and get our name out there as offering it and we can partner with them later for big events."

Steph laughs. Ram was thrilled and he and Jorge agreed to share numbers so Jorge will know what kind of money and interest we're looking at in NYC. We're already pulling back massive contracts; thankfully, it's for events weeks and months from now, so we have time to get men trained and prepped beforehand.

"The personal investigation services are really taking off. Manny said he really wanted to partner with NYC on that and I noticed that Jorge changed the way we present the findings, so business has shot up. Jorge's marketing degree and experience is really helping. I'm really stunned by the amount of work we're getting there and I think we're priced too low."

"I'll bet we are." Sis tells me about Jorge's trick on the business customers and we laugh. It was brilliant. Sis doesn't get it but I do. Tell a man that there's something out there he really wants but can't have and he'll do anything to get it. Works in business and in a man's personal life. It feeds drive and ambition. It makes perfect sense.

"Work with Javi and Jorge to re-price the offering. Also, I told Javi to make the business investigations group a cross-company team."

I start writing notes as she explains. I see her vision for it and it's brilliant. My sister. Smarter than your average bear.

"I think that's brilliant, Steph. A lot of our guys get out of the service with some PTSD, but after readjusting to civilian and having a calm, stable routine, they're itching to get back out into active work. This would be great for them, to be able to be called on to serve on a three- or five-man team for a short period doing investigations, then come home and decompress. So yeah, I may need to revise my estimates. I might need to hire about 15 men." I'm giddy at the thought.

"Great!" Sis beams. "That's what I was thinking. OK, what's next?"

"Candy."

"Will work from Trenton. Tank is sending the formal hire letter and offer. Matter of fact, it should be here." She checks her email on her phone and grins. "Yup. I need to print it out for her."

I nod. "Great. I'm not sure what office to give her in Trenton and there's the fact that all the information is all over the place. Each XO does his own hiring. Candy would like some time with you today to talk about priorities and responsibility."

Sis's face gets serious. Uh oh. I'm about to hear something I won't like. "OK, I have a couple of concerns. I know she's your girlfriend and you love her, but are you going to have a problem with her working from Trenton?"

I smile. "We've already discussed this, and we know that in the office she doesn't report to me but I'm the final authority there. She understands."

"OK. Also, you know she'll need to make standards, which means Trenton can't be the ones to clear her. Plus, we need to find out from Tank what the standard will be so she can start training."

I nod. "I called Tank. I'm glad you upped your standard. He's going to pass you at 70, like every other RangeMan, but at female military standards." Sis gives a satisfied nod. "He still wants your opinion on what the standard for women should be, but for the purposes of your clearance he said that's where Bobby and Les think it should be, based on what they saw during their weeks."

"Great! But since Candy has never done active field work, it means coming up with standards for her . I'm going to work with Tank on that, so you don't have the conflict. Next issue: I'm headed to Boston next, for their review, then Miami. I want Candy with me on both those trips." I nod. "I've asked Danny and I'll ask Jorge to accompany me to Boston."

I sit back. I don't like that. I don't like the idea of letting her out of my sight, unless Hector is going. Danny and Jorge swagged her out, so I'm marginally OK with them but . . . responsibility for her safety fell to Trenton Core and Hector. I'm not shirking my duty for anyone.

"Is Hector going on those trips?"

"I'm not sure, but even so, Hal, I'm asking you not to come."

My shoulders slump. I knew she was going to say that. "Because I still want to kill Mark, right?"

"Right."

Darn. Hector has to go then. "Miami?"

"You and Hector have already decided to accompany me there. Based on what Ella told me about the Miami men, I think I'd prefer you were at Candy's back there. The Miami men seem to get their act together when they know that the woman has a strong man at her back willing to defend her honor."

Sis's nose scrunches on that description, but I smile. In other words, if the Miami men know that the woman they're scoping is attached, they back off. Good. Now that Mark's been chopped down to size, and on his way out, the Miami men are Sis's only big remaining problem.

"When are you thinking of going to Miami?"

A long sigh. "I'm not sure. I'm thinking late fall, October? I have to go before Thanksgiving. Mom would never leave me alone if I miss Thanksgiving and I'm trying to decide what to do about Halloween."

I groan mentally. Please Lord, no Plum Family Thanksgivings. Maybe that's a good time to introduce Candy to my family. Yeah, I think Junior can take point that week.

"OK. Let me know. I'm trying to mentally schedule all that vacation you want us to take."

Sis grins. "Good. I need all of you to get out of the office. I worry. Anything else I need to know about home base?"

"The guys hired Mary Lou."

"I know. She was stunned and happy." Steph starts laughing hard. "She can't believe you guys are willing to pay her for the crap she hears every day but she's OK with it."

I grin. Good. We needed a Burg informant and Mary Lou is perfect. Known and trusted.

Steph grins. "She really really loved what you guys did to David Pickens. 'Scary yet caring', she said."

I smile. That was Ram's idea. He wanted to keep David good and busy and too damn tired to try to poach in our territory. Plus, one of Ram's pet peeves is men who don't pay child support and in Trenton, damn near every man agrees.

Nothing lower than a man who won't face up to his responsibilities. Your children didn't ask to be born. Support them.

"Les said he's going to keep our men the longest." Steph groans. So did I when he told me. "Also, Joyce thinks she has a chance with the CCO. I think she's taking the theft of her engine personally." It took her two days to get out the Pine Barrens and a week to get her engine replaced. She's telling everyone that she's going to take Ranger from Steph. Vince and Binkie find this hilarious.

Sis snorts. "Good luck with that."


Steph's POV—Wednesday evening

Last interview is with my new hire, Candy. We decide to have our interview on the beach, far away from the men. I printed her hire letter and offer from Tank and stuffed it in an envelope before giving it to Hal to give to her. I heard a shout from upstairs and I grinned. Tank priced the job at $95K, same as Ryan.

Hal didn't say anything, but after dinner, he kissed my cheek and said, "Thank you, Sis."

"Don't thank me. That came from on high."

Hal grinned and he and the other XOs went to sit in the backyard for a while. I can see Danny took my words to heart. He's forcing Hal to spend time in Mark's presence and I can see Mark is still uncertain about how to win Hal over.

At the moment, I'm waiting for Candy. I don't have to wait long. Candy comes downstairs in her bikini and a sarong, beaming. Hal is a lucky man. Interesting that he won't tell me how they met but he blushes deep red when I ask. I'm betting there's a story behind that.

"Stephanie!"

I grin. "Candy! Man, am I happy to have another woman in this company."

She blinks. "Just us?"

"Just us and the housekeepers. Believe me, you aren't prepared for the waves of testosterone headed your way."

"Wow . . . "She looks uncertain.

"Don't worry. The Trenton men will probably treat you like they do me. Have you met any of them yet?"

"Yeah. Let's see, I know Ram, Junior, Zip and Zero. I've met a few others, but I can't remember names."

"Then you've met most of the leadership of RangeMan Trenton."

We've reached the boardwalk and Candy turns to me. "Stephanie, I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity. I really appreciate this and I'm ready to get started."

"Great. I'm ready to hear what you have to tell me."

"OK. So let's start first with basic employment admin." Candy starts outlining what she feels needs to be done in that area.

"Do you think this should be first?"

"At the moment, yes. I would like to review the contracts for insurance, cars, and investments but if they're more than six months from renewal then I can put those off for a while."

"OK. We have a new project going, RangeWorld, a SharePoint site where we're putting as much stuff as we can. You think you'll need room there?"

Candy's eyes widen. "Oh please! If I can start digitizing the employee records, that will make it so much easier to function from Trenton. Digitizing the employee records then moving employee admin online means that we can archive the paper files."

I nod. "OK sounds good. At the moment, I'm doing management reviews of each location. I think it would be good for you to join me on these trips. I usually stay for two weeks. Boston is next, at the end of the month. I've only completed Atlanta so far, so you're not missing much."

"Perfect. That's enough time for me to come up with some new employee forms for the guys to use and get those ready. I can get most of those forms online from SHRM. My goal is to leave each location having digitized the employee files and leaving the electronic forms for the guys to use."

This is exactly what I was hoping for. Best hire I've made …actually, only hire I've made. No, wait, I approved Javi hiring Jorge. Does that count? Either way, I'm two for two. I grin.

Boston is next.


Side Story: Calls to New York.