I got a text on the way back to the office. It was from Connie. "Congrats on the Averys. Now you just have Akuna, and I have another two for you to chase. Their files are here in the office. I will get Lula to text the details to you this afternoon."
I wrote back "Thanks. Payment for the Averys should be split sixty percent to Rangeman, ten percent to Lula and the remainder to me. I look forward to hearing details of the other files. Eduardo and Miguel are bringing in the receipts."
"Are you ready for the pizza party?" asked Ranger.
"As ready as I will ever be. It still seems odd to me that the guys all get so excited about having a girl in the building. Do you purposely hire people who have no social life?"
"Remember when I said that half my guys were hired out of the military?"
"The Sales guys aren't included. They are hired for their ability to sell. They might have been hired from a used car lot, or they might have been hired from a kiosk in a mall selling cell phones or from a place selling timeshares. Wherever they were hired from, they impressed Andy with their ability to sell. They weren't hired for their social lives."
"Wouldn't they make more effective salespeople if they could relate to women better? After all, women make up approximately half the potential clients out there."
"True, and that is why we are going to start to train them to treat women better, starting with you. Feel free to knee them in the crotch if they crowd you out, and feel free to be nice if that is what you would like to do. But no matter what, do not let them get away with anything. They need to learn what behaviour is acceptable and what is not."
"That is a tall order."
"I know. But they need to see women as people, rather than as prizes or objects."
Ranger drove into the underground parking lot. He looked at his watch. "Pizza is supposed to arrive in about ten minutes. I just want to talk to the monitoring staff for a moment before we go down to the conference room." We went upstairs to the fifth floor. As we walked into the control room, the monitoring staff started clapping.
"Good going, guys! Another successful takedown by Rangeman", said Calvin.
"The way I heard it," said Raphael, "Steph's fast thinking and fake fainting made a huge difference in how that takedown went."
"That helped", I said, "but it was really Ranger's approach on the house that caused the takedown to go so smoothly."
"Don't sell yourself short, Babe. If you hadn't collapsed or beaten up Avery when you did, things would have turned out quite a bit differently."
I didn't know what to say to that, so I excused myself to go lock my purse in my office. Ranger stayed back to talk with the team and to thank them for their part in the takedown.
"Ready, Babe?" asked Ranger as we walked towards the conference room.
"Ready as I will ever be", I said. I could hear the buzz of conversation grow as we walked towards the room. The conversation ceased when Ranger and I walked in. "Hi", I said uncomfortably as the men all looked at me. "I notice the pizza is here. Did anyone take any up to the guys on the monitoring stations?" I said, looking at the men in the room.
"No, but I will", volunteered Sven.
"Thank you, Sven", I said, smiling at him. He looked at me with his puppy dog eyes for a minute, then looked at Ranger. He flushed bright red and looked away. "I don't know what kind you ordered, but if you could send up a cheese pizza or vegetarian pizza that would be preferable since Raphael is vegetarian."
"You know Raphael is vegetarian? Have you gone out with him?" asked another of the Sales guys. I didn't know his name.
"Heavens, no. I generally think of the Rangeman staff as my brothers and I don't go out with my brothers. It's like the Sales staff. You are also my brothers and I will never go out with you. But when you work with people you learn things about them and I have learned that Raphael is vegetarian."
Ramon and Manuel came into the room. "We haven't missed the pizza yet, have we?" They saw me and came over to me, giving me a high five. "Good one today, Steph. I was out the back and missed the fun, but I heard from Miguel what a good job you did fighting off that bastard. And we caught them red-handed. Kind of makes up for losing them the other day, doesn't it?" said Ramon.
"That's true. And the other day we would have only caught one. Today was a two-for-one special", I said.
"Eduardo and Miguel are taking in your body receipt and picking up your cheque. They should be here in about ten minutes."
"Perfect. I need to tease them about their Spiderman-like abilities to climb up houses and into upper windows. How did they do that, anyway?"
"It's like I told you, Babe. My guys have skills."
"Are we going to eat pizza? Or are we waiting for Eduardo, Miguel and Hal?"
"Let's eat", said Ranger.
I took a slice of deluxe. "Lula heard that we were having a pizza party and wanted to crash. I had to do some fast talking to ensure she didn't show up."
"Who's Lula?" asked another one of the guys from Sales.
"I work two jobs. The one here at Rangeman and another as a bounty hunter for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds."
"That is so hot", said a different guy from Sales.
"It really isn't. It is a lot of boring surveillance work and knocking on doors. Lula is someone I often work with when I go skip chasing. She has a loud personality and is a tonne of fun, but she is not subtle and releasing her in the Rangeman office would be like letting the hounds loose. She would particularly want to see the bedrooms of all the men. Especially Ranger's. And his closet."
"Thanks, but I don't want to have her checking out what kind of underwear I wear", said Ranger. My face turned red. That is exactly what I did the first time I camped out in Ranger's apartment. At the time, he didn't wear any. Since I started staying over he has started wearing underwear. I can't say that I liked the switch in clothing choices. "Babe?" asked Ranger. "You looked kind of peculiar there."
"I'm good", I said, bouncing back mentally. "I just went somewhere in my head for a moment."
"Where did you go?"
"That is one of those secrets that a woman should get to have."
Ranger looked at me, his eyes dilating black, then he draped his arm over my shoulder and said "do you know everybody here?" as he took me around and introduced all the guys.
Dave brought up the elephant in the room. "I heard you were engaged to Adam after a very whirlwind courtship, and then he was fired and we heard it was for sexual harassment. What happened to your engagement?"
I could feel Ranger gearing up to say something. I put my hand on his arm to still him, then explained "I only met Adam about five times, most of which were in passing, over a period of less than a week. In total I spent less than half an hour with him. I think I have said more to you today than I said to Adam the whole time I knew him. He was convinced that he loved me, despite not even knowing me, and he was convinced that I loved him, despite the fact that I didn't even know his last name."
"So you didn't have a plan to elope with him?" asked Dave.
"A handful of meetings does not make a relationship. For a true romantic relationship, you have to know all about the person – their hopes, their dreams, their innermost feelings and thoughts, all the things they keep secret from others. We didn't have any of that. Nor did I want any of that with him. There was no relationship at all with him, let alone an engagement. I wasn't planning on going anywhere with him, let alone eloping with him. Whatever he told you was the result of something he created in his own mind, not reality."
"I can see why he was fired for sexual harassment", said Emilio.
"I know, and charged for it as well. Originally he wasn't being formally charged for harassment, just warned and fired, but he did not know when to stop. He just kept continuing to harass me, even after he was let go for it. I hope that no one here will ever have to go through that sort of harassment. It makes you feel icky. Just think how you would have reacted if it had been your sister, your cousin, your girlfriend having to deal with it."
"I thought it was too good to be true", said Dave.
"Too unrealistic, anyway."
"Are you talking about that idiot Adam?" asked Hal, coming in the door.
"He was messing with our chica", said Eduardo, coming in with Miguel.
"Is he bothering you again?" asked Hal. "Because I would be happy to straighten him out for you."
"Thanks, Hal. But he has stayed away from me since being charged with harassment. I think Morelli finally got through to him."
"Either that or he is planning on skipping bail, and having you and Lula come after him", said Miguel.
"That would be one file I would have to hand over to Rangeman. Initiating contact with him would go against the restraining order I have against him." I helped myself to another slice of deluxe. Ranger reached over and snagged both of us a bottle of water. I thanked him with a smile.
"Are you seeing anyone then?" asked Sven.
"Yes, I am." Hal and Eduardo exchanged smiles, and Miguel, Manuel and Ramon looked so pleased I thought they were going to do high fives. I looked at Ranger and saw him looking at me with one of his half-smiles on his face. I struggled not to laugh.
"What about all of you? You must have girlfriends or wives", I said. And with that comment I found out that two men were in dying relationships, Andy and Emilio were married, three had committed girlfriends, and the rest of the guys were in no relationships. I asked about schooling and family life and pets. Two hours later the party was continuing and the atmosphere was easy. "I hate to break up the party", I said, "but I think I have some files from Sales to research." Everyone laughed and got to their feet, cleaned up the empty pizza boxes and empty cans and bottles, and went on their way.