Thursday morning, I fobbed my way into the
garage, rode the elevator to the fifth floor and crossed the command centre to
the cubicle I’d been assigned, feeling like I was being watched the entire
time, like every guy I passed was following my every move extra carefully,
maybe even suspiciously. It had been two days since Bobby pounded his way into
Tank’s entrance way claiming that Kit Danger was a fraud. He’d been right, of
course and I was so happy to see him and to have him greet me like the old
friend I really was that I’d almost forgotten the tenuous game I played at
work. Until he’d asked the question.
The honest to God truth of the matter was that I really didn’t know why I’d agreed to go along with this. It all seemed so stupid after seeing how Bobby reacted when he saw me for the first time as me. These men had once gone out of their way to help me in whatever way I needed at the time and how do I repay them? Running away for six years and then coming back, but not really coming back. My own dogged pride made me stipulate that I wanted to get the job fair and square. And Tank’s mischievous grin had convinced me to see how long I could keep it up.
But I’d had to explain to Bobby somehow.
I told him about meeting Tank in Mexico that day, and exchanging contact details. I told him of my determination to see my job through to the end. My indecisiveness over whether to come back or not. Tank’s job offer. My determination to not just be handed the job. Tank’s solution. And of course the moment that solution had turned into what I now realised was an experiment to see how observant the Merry Men really were. Everyone but Bobby had failed, but there was still time to redeem themselves.
When we told Bobby that Ranger hadn’t made any connection between Kit-me and Steph-me he was as shocked as I was. Tank had even dropped multiple hints during his meeting Tuesday morning and there was not even a hint that it made him think of Steph-me. Worried about what his reaction might be when he did eventually realise I was me, Bobby had tried to convince Tank to drop the charade and come clean. It wasn’t until I’d pointed out that the Rangemen were security specialist who should be able to recognise an imposter when they saw one, let alone were working with one, that he decided continuing was a good idea.
It didn’t squash the worry that he might accidentally, or even on purpose let slip my true identity at work. I was giving this guise everything I had, but having more people, even just the one, know about it was adding to the risk of someone finding out from a simply mistake. Like spending extra time with me.
That’s what was making me really nervous.
Yesterday Bobby had gone out of his way to seek me out during my lunch break. It wasn’t even like he had a reason. He just came into the and sat down at the table I was eating my sandwich and started chatting like one would with any new co-worker. Asking how I was settling in etc. Wondering about my life before the company. On the one hand, it helped to talk to him about my fake life, because I knew it didn’t really matter that much if I stuffed it up, but on the other, I was worried that the guys would notice the extra time he was spending with me. Might be listening in when we thought we were alone. May perhaps pick up on some little thing I do and realise I was a fraud, but not make the extra connection that I was me and take actions against me, like kidnapping and torture. I shuddered at the very possibility.
I couldn’t be myself if any of the guys at work, but I especially couldn’t let anything slip with Bobby. He knew my secret, but if I started acting differently with him than I did with the others, the men might start to think that Bobby was a part of it. Which would be doubly bad.
I’d just made it to my cubicle when a hand grabbed me by the elbow and spun me around, sending me reeling in the direction I’d just come. Before I’d fully recovered Hank was directly in front of me, a sheepish smile on his face.
“Sorry,” he apologised. “I didn’t mean for you to do a full about face. It’s been so long since we’ve had a woman around here, I guess I forgot how to act. You’re not as... I mean, you’re much more...”
“Don’t say delicate,” I requested, putting my hand on his forearm. “I can handle a little man handling from time to time, just please don’t call me the d-word.”
“D-word?” Someone said from directly behind me. I was pretty sure it was Cal. “What would that be? Delightful?”
“Delicious?” a nearby Rangeman who’s name I legitimately did not know suggested.
“Delectable?” Darren chimed in, appearing out of nowhere to join in the antics.
I shook my head at them, but couldn’t help the smile that appeared on my face as they continued rattling off more d-words.
“Delirious,” Cal said, coming to stand in front of me with the rest. “Dilemma?”
“It’s de-lovely!” the unnamed guy sang out from the back of the crowd gathered around me. Everyone laughed and slapped the guy on the back continued on their tasks as if nothing had happened, except Hank and Cal.
“So seriously,” Cal said, “What can we not call you?”
Hank studied me for a moment, before answering for me. “She says we can’t call her delicate,” he explained. “But the way I figure it, she is, comparatively, incredibly delicate.”
“Of course I am compared to you,” I defended. “For a start, I don’t spend every free moment I have working out. And secondly, you’re male. Genetically, you’re designed to be bigger and beefier.”
Cal shook his head, sending the shaggy dirty blonde locks that covered his forehead swaying from side to side. “We didn’t mean compared to us,” he said.
“Who?”I asked, though I already had a good idea of who they had in mind. Who else would they be comparing the only female member of staff to? Stephanie Plum, of course. Little did they know that Kit Danger was in fact the one and only Stephanie Plum in their thoughts right now.
“The greatest woman to ever live,” Hank said wistfully. That kind of emotion was so rare for these guys that I was immediately debilitated by a lump in my throat. If I wasn’t careful, I’d forget myself and start crying. Stay strong, Kit. Stay strong. “Her name was Stephanie Plum.”
“She worked here?” I managed to ask without sounding emotional.
“Somewhat,” Cal said, and he looked like he would have continued his explanation, had the quiet air of the comm. floor not been disrupted but a sharp whistle. All activity stopped immediately and bodies emerged from behind cubicle walls to turn their full attention to the whistler. I’d never experienced a moment like this. Not even as Stephanie six years ago, so I was confused as to what could possibly be happening.
And that’s when I felt the tingle in the back of my neck. I was so shocked by its occurrence that a gasp escaped me. It was only by a great show of control that I didn’t clap my hand to my neck. As Tank’s familiar booming voice called instructions across the floor, I found myself searching the men for Ranger. I hadn’t noticed any tingles during my interview, the one and only time we’d come face to face, but then, I’d been so nervous and preoccupied analysing all his words and actions for the smallest signs of recognition, that I may have missed them. And although, I’d felt like I was being watched for the last couple of days, there was definitely not tingle at any point. I’d have noticed.
Men were moving around me, surging into action as a direct response to the commands Tank had issued. I hadn’t heard a word, too busy seeking out the boss. Just as I spotted him leading a team of men toward the stairwell door as they all pulled on flak vests and utility belts, a hand on my elbow spun me around for the second time in ten minutes. I was faced with Cal and his obscured tattoo this time.
“Kit, it’s time for you to learn the ropes,” he informed me, not letting go of my elbow as he started guiding – read: dragging – me toward the centre of the command floor. Where there were usually at least four men sat in front of the bank of monitors, there was only Mal, looking utterly dejected as he watched most of the other men evacuate out of the corner of his eye. “These screens monitor every property under our security,” Cal explained, gesturing to the wall of screens. “Our job, for the rest of the morning, or until our relief gets in, whichever comes first, is to keep an eye on them all.”
“What if something happens on one of the screens?” I asked, hoping to show my willingness to be pulled into the security side of things from time to time as required. Perhaps letting them know that I wasn’t just a human rights activist would help my reception.
“We get a team there as soon as possible,” he instructed.
I gazed around the floor, noting that only a few men were left wandering around the floor and sitting at desks. I estimated Ranger and Tank had taken seventy five percent of the on duty men with them on whatever urgent mission they’d just hauled ass to. I’d always wondered how exactly this worked.
“What team would that be?” I asked.
“It depends on the situation and location,” he explained. “If it’s nearby we could send a couple of men from the office. If not there’s a number of teams in the field that can be called in.” Cal hit a couple of buttons on the keyboard in front of him and a map with a bunch of green dots came up on one of the lower screens. “Once you have the location of the incident, you come to this screen, find the nearest green dot, and click on it. That will make a call to the team from your headset.”
“I don’t have a headset,” I pointed out.
“Right here,” Mal announced a split second before he moved my hair out of the way and hooked a small device over my ear. “Don’t worry too much about it, though,” he reassured me, leaning back in his chair and crossing his ankles, one over the other on the corner of the desk. “It’s not like you’ll be witnessing anything major, like a-,”
“Don’t say it,” Cal warned. “You know you’ll be out of here in a flash if you even utter the word I know you want to say.”