The holiday party was winding down after a tumultuous week, and on this evening before Christmas break, the windows of E-Rase blackened, eliminating the Sedona mountains from view.
Kaye’s wine was too warm to drink and holding up the glass was an enormous effort, while Hawke zinged with energy, organizing safe rides home, and finishing up conversations about holiday plans. For her, the Christmas weekend looked bleak; the stack of work she was bringing home would take more than two days to complete; the challenges before her seemed insurmountable.
She surveyed her office area, still stunned by how large it seemed without cubicles. Comfortable chairs formed three small group settings and one large one-to accommodate every employee. Off to the right was a soundproof working space; to the left was an open area dotted with desks and computers, in full view of Sedona’s red rocks.
Hawke’s egg game had convinced her staff most of the walls had to go. Every staff member, including Kaye, was given the task of preventing a fresh egg from smashing apart when dropped to the wood floor from a height of six feet. Only tools: the cardboard from the inside of a roll of paper towels, four bandaids, a scissors and seven feet of string. First, each person took fifteen minutes to come up with solutions by themselves. After that they broke into two teams to solve the problem with no more than the same tools per team. Their debrief of the individual versus group method, underlined the superiority of teamwork. Next, Hawke asked employees to solve the office space problem. In two days, they’d agreed upon a layout and got busy changing the space.
By the end of the week, Kaye had much to celebrate, but an overlay of grief made her smile feel forced.
Craig hung on the sidelines, pounding down beers, his eyes homing in on Hawke and Kaye. Frank slid out the door when no one was looking.
“Not having fun, are you?” Hawke said, his warm palm cupping her elbow.
“Frank’s gone. He gave me his letter of resignation today, begging me not to tell anyone he won’t be back after Christmas.”
Hawke nodded. “Frank’s a loner and the least skilled in this group. He’ll be happier with a solitary job and your recommendation will help him get one.”
She stared at Craig. “He was my first hire; now my first to fire.”
As if he knew they were talking about him, Craig stepped forward, flames in his eyes. He tossed his beer bottle against the wall with such power, it shattered into hundreds of pieces.
Gasps came from a couple of people, then the group standing behind Craig fell silent.
“You’ve been following me,” Craig yelled, alternately eyeing Hawke and Kaye. He stuffed his hand in his pocket, fingering something. “You hacked into my computer.”
Kaye blew out a breath. “It’s company property, Craig; you signed an agreement with me to forgo your privacy.”
Hawke squeezed her elbow, stepped next to her, and cleared his throat. “Normally we wouldn’t worry about your Russian on-line friends, but when you met with one of them in Flagstaff on Wednesday night, we took notice.”
His face red with anger, Craig pulled a knife from his pocket and flipped it open.
More gasps from behind. Joe’s expression of disbelief and Melinda’s squeal of concern caught Kaye’s attention. Jill ducked behind Joe, punching her phone.
Hawke moved in front of Kaye. “No need to feel cornered, Craig. Your losses in the stock market made you desperate for money, but you haven’t committed a crime, yet.”
Her brain churning over what to do next, Kaye put her hand to her heart. She couldn’t let Craig hurt Hawke; the responsibility for the start-up was hers, alone. Coming around in front of Hawke, eyes on Craig, but speaking to her faithful team standing behind him, she said, “Remember what we learned from the egg game?”
Craig frowned, staring at her as if she were cracked. He couldn’t see the signs of awareness brightening the faces of her employees, and was blind to the pantomimes Kaye and Hawke witnessed, each staff member pointing to a different part of Craig’s body. Joe stood in front of the group showing fingers: one second, two, three...
On three, Joe leapt to chop on Craig’s knife hand and Bert snagged Craig’s other arm. Brandon pulled the man’s leg from under him, Melinda yanked up on Craig’s other leg. Suzanne grabbed a hank of Craig’s hair, and Charlotte took him around the waist.
Craig went down squealing like a pig, and Hawke had him tied up with a couple belts in seconds.
They all stood over the guy, breathing hard.
“Nice work, team,” Kaye said, her arm around Joe. She gave him a kiss on the cheek. “You, who thought the egg game was cheesy.”
“I stand corrected,” Joe said with a smile.
She pulled Hawke to the side, letting the rest of her crew stand guard over Craig. “You’re angry with me.”
“Not your brightest move, Kaye. One slash with his knife and you’d be dead.” He shook his head, distressed. “What were you thinking?”
Kaye took his hand. “Loyalty. Putting others before ourselves. You taught me well.” She swallowed. “I’d never forgive myself if something happened to you.”
He stared at her. “I’m not going anywhere, Kaye.”
She blinked. “Isn’t this your last day?”
He shook his head more vigorously. “Negative. I’m committed to this project and this team if you’ll have me. We’ve got to figure out how to destroy private e-mails and monitor the conversations of bad guys. This mess with Craig is a clear example of using e-mail to prevent crime." Sweeping his hand over her staff and the room, Hawke said, "Your next hires will help us find solutions."
He led her to the group guarding the floored Craig. Hawke gave a little kick to the man's arm and said, “This guy interrupted the surprise for our boss. Joe?”
Joe stepped up. “We chipped in to repair your car, Kaye. Merry Christmas. The Wreck's in the garage getting new paws and a rebuilt alternator, as we speak.”
Amidst clapping and hoots, Kaye’s eyes filled with tears, but before she could thank the group, the police showed up, gaping at the hilarity surrounding a hog-tied man. While Joe explained the scene to the police, Hawke drew Kaye to his side and pulled something green out of his pocket.
She squinted at a pitiful sprig of mistletoe and asked, quietly, “Why did you save it?”
"A symbol. Trust.”
She shivered at the intensity of his gaze.
All at once, the police were handcuffing Craig, her staff were congratulating each other, and Joe beckoned her over. Visions of hiring an attorney, filing a complaint against Craig, and training a new employee crowded into her brain, cancelling the magic of mistletoe. She put a palm to her forehead, ordering structure to her next steps.
Hawke whispered warm words into her ear: “I’ve got your back.”
She turned to him, eyebrow raised. “You arranged it so I didn’t have my car tonight.”
“A Seal attends to detail,” he said smiling and patting his pocket. “Consider yourself taken…by Storm.”
Thanks for reading my Christmas short story, a harbinger of a series I’ll be starting soon, about superbly trained soldiers who leave the service, but continue to use their skills in the business world. I got the idea from an article I read in the newspaper, how lessons from the battlefield might be brought to the boardroom, a concept the General Stan McChrystal Group has put into action: https://mcchrystalgroup.com/about-mcchrystal-group/heritage/
Seals in Silcon, Rangers on Wall Street; Battles in the Boardroom…you get the drift.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the first part of Diane Burton's Mistletoe story, 'The Mistletoe Kiss.'
Stay tuned tomorrow for the first part of Diane Burton's Mistletoe story, 'The Mistletoe Kiss.'
While you’re waiting for my SEAL suspense novels to burst out of my head, here are two more books coming out in the next two months:
Keep track on my website: http://www.rolynnanderson.com
In January look for BAD LIES:
Italy’s haunted caves spell danger for an American golfer and a NATO geologist
Sophie Maxwell is a late-blooming, unorthodox golfer, and mother of a precocious thirteen year-old. Determined to put divorce, bankruptcy, and a penchant for gambling in her past, Sophie goes to Italy for a qualifying golf tournament.
Jack Walker turned his back on a pro golfing career to become a geologist. As a favor to his ailing father he’ll caddy for Sophie; off hours, he’ll find caves on the Mediterranean coast, suitable for NATO listening posts for terrorist activity.
Someone is determined to stop Jack’s underground hunt and ruin Sophie’s chances to win her tournament.
On a Rome golf course and in the Amalfi coast’s haunted caves, all the odds are stacked against Sophie and Jack. In their gamble of a lifetime, who wins?
In February or March, get ready for CÉZANNE’S GHOST:
Three American women vanish
in Aix-en-Provence, France.
Leon Beaudet, former U.S. Olympic wrestler, is proud of his five-star guide business in France, where he indulges in a passion: secretly drawing the portraits of intriguing female clients.
Then, over three successive tours, three women he sketched disappear.
Aline Kerig signs up for the next ten-day outing, more beautiful and carefree than the missing women and Leon’s most fascinating subject, yet. She waves away potential danger, and refuses to leave the tour.
The French police, American Embassy, and FBI roar in, worried the French tourist industry will collapse if the women aren’t found. They dredge up violence in Leon’s past, confounding Leon’s struggle to protect Aline, find the missing women, and clear his reputation.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS, EVERYONE!
Happy Holidays! Nice, nice ending. Superb HEA.
Yep, love the ending. Merry Christmas!
Oh, I so love the ending. Can I use it sometime??? LOL Great story, Rolynn. Merry Christmas.
Nice action! Thanks for another great story. Merry Christmas everyone!
Thanks, Vonnie, Leah and Margo for your comments on my ending. Vonnie...supreme compliment that you'd want to use it :-) Jannine, I'm glad you like the action...wow, it's tough to make it work in so few words! Merry Christmas to you all!
Great ending! Happy Holidays, everyone!
Super ending, Rolynn, even if I groaned at the last line pun. I know I'm a day late, but Merry Christmas to everyone. Hope you all enjoyed the day.
Fantastic wrap-up. Tension, romance, and a bit of humor. Love the last line! :) Congrats on the upcoming releases. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas!
Great story, Rolynn. I got to read it in one sitting. Thanks!
Diane, Alicia and Brenda, thanks for your kind comments. Hawke and Kaye may have other adventures in the future...I enjoyed writing about both of them!
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