All was quiet in a certain part of Trenton. Nothing was stirring which was unusual in this neighbourhood. Or, so it seemed. One street in particular, was void of its usual and frequent traffic in and out. The rest of Trenton remained unchanged. Over the last couple of weeks, hidden from view within the fortress-like walls of Rangeman, there had been a hive of activity, working hard and packing like the strong worker ants in an ant colony. Packing up and relocating, the whole kit and kaboodle! It was, as expected, a military manoeuvre of precision.
Prior to the move, Stephanie and Ranger had flown down to Miami, visiting Julie and taking a much-needed break from Trenton and the crapfest that seemed to linger there like a bad smell. Visiting Rangeman Miami, informing the staff there of the forthcoming changes, was on a secondary official visit with Ranger and Tank. Some of the Miami staff had expressed a wish to consider retirement, or part-time employment, or a desire to exercise a more low-key part of the team and a couple of requests for transfer. It was an older demographic at Miami, especially considering they were the first Rangeman operation established, followed by Boston and Atlanta, and then Trenton.
On a follow-up visit, they had a list of prospective properties with the greatest potential for a new building. With the Trenton and Miami Core teams together, including Hector and Sylvio, the choice was readily made. This was an ideal facility in a central location with easy access to the major traffic routes and the Miami-Dade PD. As a physical structure, it still allowed for that aspect of being outwardly unremarkable as a building. In the interim, the new office was being set up in a better location, here in Miami, better than that shit hole they call Trenton.
Miami Rangeman badly needed an upgrade, and when they found the ideal building, it was an easy decision to make and finalise their plans for the big move. This larger facility had an extra floor for residential suites and the usual amenities required to operate their business. It had a larger gym space, the gun range would be state of the art and easily fitted on the same level as the parking garage. It also had the capacity to create a more comprehensive medical suite and a mini hospital ward with two additional hospital beds, which made Bobby Brown very happy. But the icing on the cake was the basement 50 metre swimming pool, with a designated walking lane for hydrotherapy and five lap lanes. The Rangeman team were very excited about this, especially the SEALs, and Bobby too. This allowed for water polo and water volleyball and other social games as well.
This building now contained a couple of small conference and interview rooms, close to reception but away from the main secured part of the building, which was an added bonus. On the control room level, there was a larger main conference room, the hub of Rangeman, for their daily communication meetings. It had a better layout and Hector's office was closer to the action, on the same floor but at the far end. Even though he preferred his dungeon-like room from Haywood, Hector was pleased to have the extra space and storage capacity. Because of all the computer hardware and the multi servers, it was the coldest room, since maintaining optimum temperature to balance the heat generated from the large systems was critical. Hector, however, was extremely happy. His facility was the heart of Rangeman operations, which is why he was the first to move. He was in his element.
On the next floor from reception, were the holding cells, separated by a secure storage room on the other side of which was the armoury which was only accessible with the elevator. A second elevator, the service elevator enabled access to the holding cells.
Rangeman was growing, and Sylvio from the Miami office, had often remarked that Miami needed expansion and upgrading. Rangeman operations including their surveillance, and security features as well as the bond enforcement team were becoming quite strained. Bond enforcement was still an aspect that Rangeman harnessed, but the suggestion that Rangeman run their own bond office facility had a lot of merit. They'd had enough of Vincent Plum in Trenton and his shady side lines and dirty dealings. They could be more selective in who gets bonded. Alonzo, who had considerable legal experience, and Thiago, a former Jacksonville and Tallahassee police detective, both having served as Rangers, expressed an interest in running the new bond office.
As a result, there was a merging of the two offices with a core local group running the bond office led by Alonzo and Thiago. Research and the core business was located in the new building, along with the core infrastructure that made Rangeman such a great success.
Ella had been helping Stephanie with the packing for the big move. They were both so very excited. This was a refreshing change to which they had been looking forward since it was announced officially. Stephanie did a happy dance when Ella agreed to go with them. Ella was happy to move with them and her "boys", which Luis whole-heartedly endorsed. Considering that they also had family in Miami was another bonus.
With the able assistance of her Merry Men, the furniture was packed or lifted and stacked in the company moving truck. Every box was labelled and once it was ready, it only took minutes to empty the apartment. The boxes with Stephanie and Ranger's personal things, were loaded into vans, in the second consignment a week later, along with other necessary general equipment, just leaving bare necessities in the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Most of these were driven to the local airfield and airlifted to Miami since the furniture was practically in place already.
The new penthouse was larger and an interior designer was obtained to make it homelier, and not so minimalist and masculine. Besides, they wanted room for expansion, with two extra bedrooms, a guest room and a slightly larger office. The bathroom was a fabulous upgrade which Stephanie looked forward to enjoying with her man. Ella and Luis also had a larger area, with a separate industrial kitchen and Luis' larger workshop, which he loved. Marisol, Ella's equivalent in Miami, was recruited to assist Ella on a part-time basis. To say she was relieved was an understatement with the larger Rangeman team and facility. They decided to share some roles, but Marisol was mainly in charge of laundry and assisting with cooking preparation. They were familiar with each other, related by marriage to Luis' cousin. Her husband, Rafael, was happy to take on the role of his assistant, and he was rapt with the larger workshop.
Since most of the office furniture and equipment would be new, Ranger and Tank sought out appropriate places who would benefit from the various equipment, which included computer hardware and the gym equipment which was too heavy to be transported. After a safety overhaul and a thorough service, they were donated to reliable facilities which maintained youth support and before and after school care in some of the hard-hit and neglected areas of Trenton and Newark.
Rangeman Miami now housed ten floors, which included the basement pool, and the parking garage which had an alternative entry and exit route, should the situation arise. Having only one escape route was a liability. Rangeman transport and delivery trucks and vans were busy transferring all of Rangeman Trenton, leaving an empty shell.
Stephanie and Ranger and the Core team had decided it was time to re-assess their business and the decision to move on out was unanimous. After some serious reconnaissance in Miami, over the previous two months, now, in barely two weeks, Rangeman Trenton no longer existed. The headline in a small news article, as requested, in the Trenton Times the next day: Say Goodbye to Rangeman, Trenton. It was concise and did not elaborate the reasons. Just that Rangeman had shut up shop and had moved out. Finis. In a nutshell? Done and dusted. They were washing their hands off it all, and anything involved with Trenton.
Reading the newspaper from front to back, as Frank Plum does in his daily routine, he spotted it.
He shrugged his shoulders, "Pfft. Big deal."
"Helen? Isn't Rangeman where Stephanie lives with that Ranger guy?"
The sound of a cup breaking as it hit the floor didn't surprise him.
"Tsk. How could she do this to me? Why me?"
Frank rolled his eyes at his wife's favourite lines. He knew what was coming next.
"You know, I tried so hard to get her to do the right thing. Oh, no. Not our Stephanie. Not only did she not want to marry Joseph Morelli, she went and lived in sin with that thug and all those criminals. Oh, the shame. You know what people say, about her living in the same building? With all those men in black?! I shudder at the thought."
Shaking her head in despair, she perked up momentarily.
"Never mind. Mother's Day is just around the corner. She will come over for lunch, and Mum and I can talk some sense into her. I will even make her pineapple upside down cake and a chocolate cake as a sweetener."
"Oh. That's a great idea. And I can make some of her favourite cookies," Edna replied excitedly as she entered from the stairs. "Then I can ply her with some of that nice wine you bought, Helen, and get some juicy details. To be without some inside information at the Clip 'n Curl is practically sacrilege! It's been like a drought. I can't keep making things up. She owes me!"
"Hang on. I thought it was Mother's Day? Not Stephanie's Day."
"You're right Frank. But this might be our last chance. We need to take advantage of every opportunity and she is not getting any younger. Joseph is not going to wait for her forever, you know."
"That goes the same for me. The phones have been rather quiet. Same with the newspapers, especially lately. I can't imagine why? I need to hold my prestige and position of respect. We'll give her an ultimatum, that's what we'll do. And when Valerie arrives in time for afternoon tea, after she has had her Mother's Day fun with the girls, she can make a third front of attack. You'll see. I have a feeling that things will be different from now. Mark my words."
Frank muttered something about "crazy scheming women" and read on, sitting in the peace of the loungeroom in his special armchair. He had to admit it, "I kind of miss my Pumpkin. We have seen so little of her lately. Maybe, it is time for a change. We'll see."
In Miami, Stephanie was delighted with their new space. It was light and bright and the view from the tenth floor had sweeping views of the intercoastal waterways and the marinas. It was a pleasant view, with the added bonus of stunning sunrises. She sighed happily. This was perfect. Close to Julie. Close to the beautiful beaches. Close to the marina where Carlos had a lovely cabin cruiser. They enjoyed cruising the Miami River and the many waterways, looking at the amazing waterfront homes. It was always a relaxing day being on the water.
She sighed again.
How her life had changed was wonderful. And, now that they were making a permanent move to Miami, far away from all the negativity, the constant judgments and narrow-mindedness of Trenton people, she was indeed, relieved. Life was changing, good changes, positive changes, for the better. She can live the life of her choice without interference and all that meddling and gossip.
She decided to test a theory. Perhaps it was a bit mean, but she had to know. In confidence, she told her mother and her grandmother slightly differing aspects of a fictional event involving her and a car or shop fire. Saying it was a secret since it didn't happen in Trenton proper, she kept the details brief and non-specific. Well, she got a hell of a surprise. It was like Chinese Whispers. The stories became more bizarre and convoluted than she had initially explained. Her Grandma's version included a clown and a sex shop. What the heck?! And the clown was running down the street, his jacket and baggy pants on fire, leaving him only wearing a huge bow tie, an elephant-shaped penis warmer and his big ass shoes. "You know what they say about men with big feet, eh?" Holy shit! Her mother's version was of her crashing her wreck of a car, a POS, into a pole which set fire to a tree and it came crashing down on her car, causing it to explode! Oh, my Lord. Stephanie knew, as she had known all along, that they were no longer trustworthy even with a simple story, false as it was. Their need to embellish the "facts" disappointed her. Stephanie's car presently, is a shiny, silver, respectable sports car. In other words, not a piece of shit on wheels. Shaking her head, she made a decision, with no regrets.
Ignoring the call, obviously from her mother given that chosen ring tone, she waited for it to go to messages. Sure enough, it was a command. You will be there for Mother's Day lunch on Sunday. Not a please, but the expectation that she will obey because it was an order. Pfft. She knew what that was all about as soon as she mentioned the lure ("I'd rather call it a nasty bribe.") of my two favourite cakes. Besides, we had made other plans.
Mama Manoso had invited us to a family lunch for Mother's Day, including the Rangemen whom she considered her surrogate sons, Tank, Hector, Lester a nephew, Bobby, Cal, Hal, Woody, Ram and Manny. They either had lost their mum's, were estranged or their Mum's were on the other side of the country. These were the men who helped and assisted so many times when muscle and helping hands were needed. She knew they loved her cooking and, she loved cooking for them. Respectfully, they showered her with chocolates and flowers or a potted plant, to show their appreciation.
For our couple, Stephanie and Ranger decided to honour Mama Manoso to celebrate her on Mother's Day, and not Helen or Edna. Together, they had made one of Carlos' favourites, empanadas, knowing that his mother absolutely loved empanadas. Stephanie had so much fun making them with her new-found confidence in the kitchen. Mama Manoso was delighted with the large batch of still warm empanadas, knowing to hide them from Papa Manoso. But, before she could put them in the oven ready to heat for the evening family gathering, he had stolen one before her wooden spoon came out of her apron pocket. He kissed her, smiling as he relished the spicy aroma and flavours, offering her a third of it.
With all the Rangeman SUVs, they drove to a fancy restaurant to celebrate Mother's Day. Carlos knew full well that his mother would create a huge feast so he had booked, in advance, predicting that this is where they would be for Mother's Day this year, and onwards, with the Manoso's. He saw how the Plum's treated his wife each time and decided she didn't need all that harassment and aggravation, and those relentless phone calls. Besides, tonight, the rest of the Manoso clan would come for dinner, each bringing a plate of food, so that Mama could sit back and enjoy, enjoy celebrating her motherhood and grandmother-hood.
The celebration was warm and light, no pressure, no negativity. It was such a contrast to how the Plum family would have celebrated this special day. It was filled with laughter and stories of when the children were young, namely Carlos and Lester, and their fondest memories of her, growing up. Hector, she knew since their teens and the episodes with gang involvement. Bobby and Tank, she had known since they had enlisted with Carlos and Lester, when they often visited on their weekends off, or returns from deployments. Lester of course, being a nephew, she had known all his life. The other Rangemen visited after deployments, and the joy of home cooking and family connections ran deep and profound. They were always ready and willing to help with house projects, like the new patio, the paving, some heavy garden work, the new retaining wall, fence repair, or painting, and more.
Stephanie loved listening to Mama Manoso's happy memories, of her big boys, her men. They each related happy experiences and memories that were special to them of Mama Manoso as their loving surrogate mother, who was always so warm and welcoming. But, heaven forbid if they stepped out of line, she firmly held them to account. And that wooden spoon had many connections!
Carlos looked at Stephanie, his beloved wife and smiled warmly. Mama, ever observant looked at her son's loving expression. She smiled knowingly as she watched their interaction, especially Carlos' hands. She squealed in delight but kept mum about it. Papa looked at her, and then at his son and beautiful daughter-in-law. She was looking particularly radiant. Hmm. Mama grinned with an excited wriggle, winking at him.
Everyone ate heartily, and helped clear the table making room for dessert. There was a photographer taking family photos and he asked their permission, to use some for a special feature in tomorrow's magazine section of the Newark News. She sighed happily as they went outside into the potted palm decorated courtyard, with a refreshing drink or beer. Stephanie declined a glass of bubbly which made Mama Manoso's smile even more jubilant. She watched her son.
"Carlos? Stephanie? I believe you have some special news to share."
Papa Manoso grinned at his dear wife, thinking, she doesn't miss a trick.
He kissed Stephanie's hand and smiled, looking proudly at his parents and his friends. Stephanie smiled, radiant and beautiful. Everyone was standing around and when they heard the tenderness in Carlos' voice, they turned to face them.
"Mama, Papa? Can you handle being Abuela again to a new Manoso?"
Well. Everyone looked at Stephanie with a huge grin. She patted her cute baby bump and smiled with such joy when Carlos made the announcement.
"Yes. We are pregnant, about 14 weeks now."
Huge cheers and toasts of beer bottles and glasses clinking. Man-hugs for Carlos and gentle sweet hugs from her Merry Men. Mama and Papa were jubilant, Mama with a triumphant look on her face. After congratulations all around they went back to Casa Manoso. The designated drivers drove back to Rangeman.
So, it was a double celebration for Mother's Day.
The following morning, Frank came inside after an early taxi fare from Newark. His passenger had left the Newark News on the front seat, for Frank to read.
Inside, enjoying a cup of coffee, he read the news and skimmed through the magazine insert special feature. He wasn't that interested until he recognised the people in a couple of photos, one in particular in amongst the potted palm trees. In annoyance, he flipped the magazine insert onto the coffee table.
Helen walked in with her cup of coffee and sat on the couch. Her eyes were drawn to the magazine feature: Happy Mother's Day Celebrations. Flipping the pages casually, she looked at Frank.
"You know. I was so disappointed in Stephanie. She didn't return my calls or messages. She didn't even answer her phone. She didn't even turn up. Frank? Do you think something happened to Stephanie and THAT man? Tsk. Always a disappointment. Not even a card and …"
Frank's head shot up as Helen's cup and saucer hit the coffee table, her mouth opening and shutting like a goldfish.
"Frank? That … That's Stephanie, and that man. That's that swanky new fancy restaurant I heard about in Newark."
Her voice softened to a whisper. "This must be his mother, she has the same smile and she's pointing … Oh my Lord!" She crossed herself. "She's pregnant and living in sin. Oh, Frank, how will I show my face? What will people say? Why me?" and she sobbed. "It was supposed to be my Mother's Day."
"Hot diggity. Our Stephanie has a bun in the oven," Edna crowed as she recognised her grand daughter with those hunky men standing around her and Ranger admiring her baby bump. Everyone looked so happy. A few wistful tears fell from Edna's eyes.
"Oh, Helen. For Pete's sake. It's not about you. Let's face it. We blew it. We have lost our treasure."
And she left the room, to go upstairs, with that page. Part of her was happy but also very sad. Helen was in a flurry about her reputation and bearing in the Burg, and Frank … Frank was just a quiet pensive blob. He knew that Edna's words rang true.
Thank you, Miss Margaret for this lovely prompt.
Celebrating all the Mothers in our world. Happy Mother's Day. Wishing you love and joy and peace.