Chapter 1: Hello, Rance
The first time I laid eyes on him, I knew I was in trouble. I mean, this man was it. He was every woman's wet dream. Just looking at him was enough to dampen my panties.
"Who is that?" I asked Doreen Jamieson, my guide on the indoctrination tour.
I didn't have to explain what I was referring to. She knew instantly.
"That's Rance Cameron, head of security. Don't get your hopes up. He's not available."
"Nope. Just unavailable by choice," she said.
That would take some explaining. "What's the story?"
"Seems like he was burned by a Dear John letter when he was in Afghanistan. Kind of soured him on women. No more than twenty or thirty fair young maidens have thrown themselves at his feet, but came away empty-handed. Damn shame, I say."
"You can say that again."
I spent the rest of the day with Doreen, getting my orientation package and tour. I was the latest computer whiz hired by Kleinhauser Industries in Spokane. It was a rapidly growing company specializing in GPS technology. Two years ago, there were one hundred and eleven employees. According to my security pass, I was employee number three hundred and forty-one.
When the tour was done, Doreen and I adjourned to the cafeteria and had a coffee. I would begin my regular work day tomorrow morning at eight o'clock.
"How long have you worked here, Doreen?"
"Four years. I was one of the early hires, number 66. Twenty-one and fresh out of Eastern Washington University. It seems like a long time ago," she chuckled. "What school are you from?"
"Oh ... wow! Big bucks to go there," she said in awe.
"I had a scholarship. My folks could never afford to send me there without that."
"It must have been a hell of a scholarship, girl."
"Yes. I had an athletic scholarship in swimming and an academic one in computer sciences."
"Now I'm really impressed," Doreen said. "I didn't know there was any such thing as a double scholarship."
"Well, not that way. I applied for the academic scholarship at several universities. I was offered a full ride at Stanford on the athletic scholarship, so I combined them. I still had to have a job to pay for the incidentals."
"Just the same ... that's really something," she said in admiration. "What did you do between the time you graduated and now?"
"I had a job with a family business, implementing a computer system for them. They had a couple of old off-the-shelf programs, but nothing compared to what they needed. I worked there for two years, putting in a whole system, then administering it.
"But, family businesses are no place to plan a future. I wasn't family, so I could see I wasn't going anywhere. I started looking around ... and here I am."
"Still, that would be good experience," she said.
"Yes, it was." We sat in silence for a few moments before I asked her a personal question.
"No wedding rings, so still single?"
"For now. I have a boyfriend, but time will tell if he's the one. What about you?"
"No. No one. Haven't had the time. Between school and swimming and looking for a job, I didn't date very much."
"Well," said Doreen with a grin, "you've got some catching up to do, and this isn't too bad a place to start."
For the first three months at Kleinhauser I was given fairly mundane and non-challenging tasks. On the one hand, it gave me a chance to get familiar with the company and some of the employees. On the other, I was getting bored and needed something to stimulate my brain.
"Very well, Miss Sanchez, I'll look into something a bit more suitable to your skills. I'll let you know in a day or so," Mr. Weiser said. He was my immediate supervisor and seemed like a good guy.
Friday afternoon that same week I was summoned to Milton Weiser's office.
"If you're interested, I have an opening in the security department under Mr. Cameron. It's a different type of project, so you have the option to turn it down if you're not comfortable."
"No! I mean ... no ... I'm fine with it," I said, my heart beating a mile-a-minute. Working with Rance Cameron was a dream assignment. There was no way in hell I was going to turn that down, even if I didn't know what the project was.
Monday morning, I headed for the security section and looked for Rance, my body tingling in anticipation.
"Mr. Cameron, I'm Julie Sanchez and I've been assigned to your project."
He smiled one of those incredible smiles and again I almost lost it. Did this guy have any idea the effect he had on women?
"Nice to meet you, Ms. Sanchez. We're pretty informal around here. If you don't mind, I'll call you Julie and you can call me Rance."
His voice! God, that voice was something out of a western movie. It was like a deep rumble coming from way down in his body. If it wasn't West Texas, it was somewhere nearby. In my head, I could see him on a horse, Stetson pulled down over his eyes, a sunset in the desert as a backdrop. Dream on, girl.
"Yes, sir ... I mean, Rance," I stammered.
He was incredibly handsome in a rough-cut sort of way. At least six-foot-two, lean, but big shoulders and hands. He showed a couple of scars on his face, but they just added character. His nose had been broken at least once, but again, it was just something that made him even sexier, at least to me. His hair was sandy blonde, cut short, but looked like it never needed a comb. The eyes were blue, just as I would have expected, and they were penetrating when he fixed his gaze on me.
I sat in a chair facing his desk, but he sat on the edge of the big mahogany piece barely three feet from me.
"You probably know who I am and what I do," he began, "but just to be clear, I'm Chief of Security, responsible for makin' sure we hold on to our assets, both physical and intellectual. Also, I'm in charge of doin' security checks on all our employees and our suppliers. You'll remember you signed a release when you applied here so I could check you out.
"So ... what does that have to do with this project?" he continued. Well, despite the fact that this is a high-tech corporation, not everythin' we do here is in keepin' with that. Right now, I'm saddled with a paper-based set of files in the security department and no interface with the HR department. We need to develop a database that will do both and get us caught up. Does that sound like somethin' you might be interested in?"
I thought about it for a moment before answering.
"Yes, I've had some experience in that area. But, it would require more than one person, I think. If nothing already exists, and the company has over three hundred employees, there's a lot of work to be done."
Rance smiled and leaned back in his chair.
"You're absolutely right. Naturally, you will have someone to lead the project who is experienced. I'll let them decide what resources they need besides you. I've already talked to Sandra Pullman, and she's agreed to take on the project leader role, but isn't interested in continuin' on after it's up and runnin'. She's a very experienced lady and you'll learn a lot workin' with her."
I nodded, feeling excited that I would be involved in an important project.
"Sandra is already approachin' other people to assist you and her, but she'll want to talk to you to make sure you're both happy with the assignment."
"I understand." It sounded like this was a much bigger project than I had originally envisioned. I was surprised that a company this large didn't have any computerized system for either Human Resources or Security.
"I'd like you to make an appointment with Sandra to get with her and discuss what she needs. She'll decide if you're right for the project, but I'd be surprised if you weren't," he smiled.
"Thank you," I replied, somewhat nervously. I wasn't sure what to expect from Sandra Pullman. I had never met her, nor did I know anything about her. I would have to think about this project and what I could contribute.
The next morning, I knocked on Sandra's office open door.
"Come in and sit down and make yourself comfortable, Julie," she smiled as I approached her desk. "This won't be the Spanish Inquisition, in case you're wondering. You come highly recommended."
"Your supervisor says you're very quick to learn and have met or exceeded all his expectations. He's not an easy man to please."
She was an attractive forty-something woman, well dressed and displaying a friendly manner.
"I haven't been here very long," I admitted. "I'm surprised I'm getting this opportunity."
"Rance and I have gone over your background and experience. I understand you took a small business and computerized it on your own. That's quite an achievement for someone so young."
"I have to confess," I said, "I did have some help from a couple of the employees. Luckily, I didn't have a lot of resistance from the staff. Most of them really wanted the system to work."
"Just the same, a very good start to your career. Now you are here and we have a much bigger project in mind. Neither the personnel files nor the security files have been computerized and there is no interface between them. Both of them are conventional paper files.
"All the money for computers has been spent on design and development, accounting, and peripheral needs. Rance has really been handicapped, and we need to get both him and HR up to date as a priority."
"Yes, I'm sure. I'm surprised. We do government work here. I would have thought security was a priority."
"It is, Julie. I assure you, Rance takes his job very seriously and is very good at it. We just need to give him all the tools."
"What would my role be?"
"You would assist the design and development of the database. You have some experience that will help you, so I don't expect you will be in over your head."
"I'm happy to contribute whatever I can, Sandra. When do we start?"
"Next Monday. I'll have the complete team by then, so we'll get started immediately."
"Thank you for the opportunity? I'm looking forward to it."
"Good. I'll see you bright and early on Monday morning and introduce you to the rest of the team."
I spent a pleasant weekend, anticipating my new job and working with a team for the first time. I wondered how often I would see Rance.
Promptly at eight, I arrived at Sandra Pullman's office and found a small group already there. I saw a familiar face.
"Hi, Doreen. Are you part of our team?"
"Yeah. Great, huh. I've been hoping for an opportunity like this. Do you know anyone else?"
"No, I don't think so. I just met Sandra last week. She said she'd introduce everyone this morning."
Sandra walked into the office and stood in front of her desk, addressing the group.
"Good morning, everyone. I'm pleased to have you on our team. We have a lot of work to do, so I'll get started by introducing everyone."
Sandra read out the names of the people in the group, and each of us acknowledged her when our name was called. She handed us a sheet with the names and face pictures of each of the team on it. I recognized my picture as the one that was taken for my security pass.
"We will be working in meeting room 4," she said, "and I'd like for all of you to go there now. It should be ready for us."
We arrived at the meeting room to find Rance waiting for us along with Patricia Mullinder, the human resources manager. There was also a table with a tray of bakery goods, juice and soft drink cans, and a large coffee urn. We wouldn't go hungry.
Sandra took over the meeting to outline the objectives, the interlocking needs for the two departments, and the potential design concept of the database. This was going to be relatively straightforward, but since we were starting from ground zero, it would be a demanding and time-consuming job. Rance and Patricia would be available throughout the project to consult and answer questions.
Everyone on the team had experience either designing, implementing, or using a database. Mine had been with a purchased design that I had to install and load. Not anywhere as complex as this project would need. Within a few days, I would realize just how big this project was.
Along with Doreen, our team had some interesting people. Ed Woods was a late-fifties former Martin Marietta employee who had taken early retirement and then came to work at Kleinhauser. He was a likeable man, easy to talk to and a wealth of experience and knowledge. Ranjit Bains was a young, fun-loving East Indian guy with a thick accent and a quick mind. Douglas Childress and Norman Feiler completed the group, both of them quiet, but well suited to the group.
For the next three months, we worked our butts off. Long hours and, in some cases, tedious almost boring attention to detail, but all of it necessary. We had one key objective. The HR portion of the database would be available to the security people, but the Security portion would not be available to HR. We had to set up an elaborate system of passwords and firewalls to protect all the information and that took a lot of our time.
The final step was testing the shell of the system and making sure it did what it was intended to do. Once that was established, it was a matter of scaling up the system, loading the database, and bringing it on-line. My part of the project was now finished and I would go back to my old cubicle and wait for another project, or so I thought.
Rance had dropped in to the cafeteria a couple of times over the lunch hour to join us and get an informal update on how we were doing. Since most of my part of the project was devoted to the security system, I had a chance to talk to him.
I was sitting in the cafeteria by myself when I felt someone approach from behind.
"Mind if I join you, Julie?" Rance asked quietly.
"Uhhm ... no ... not at all," I scrambled to be coherent.
He placed his tray on the table and wound himself down into the chair.
"How have you enjoyed the project?" he asked as he picked up a half of his sandwich.
"Oh ... it was great. It was a real test of creative thinking. Sandra's a great leader, too. Very patient, and very smart."
"Yep. I thought you'd find her easy to work with. You're the newest one here and I wanted you to be comfortable and not worried about contributin'."
I nodded my agreement. We sat silently, eating our lunch before my curiosity got the better of me.
"You have an accent that sounds like you're from the southwest," I stated tentatively.
"Yep. Born and raised near Trinidad, Colorado. My folks have a cattle ranch just northeast of town."
"So, you are a cowboy at heart," I gushed.
He smiled that killer smile. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."
"What brings you up here and in this business? It's nothing like your upbringing."
"Tim Kleinhauser and I served in the army together. We were pretty good buddies. He taught me a whole lot about communications and the kind of stuff he wanted to create to make things safer for the troops. He'd said he was lookin' for someone to take care of security at this new company he'd started, so I listened to his offer. He wanted to know if I was interested. I said I was, so here I am. Been here for almost five years now."
"Is this the first time you've been involved in a development project?" I asked.
"Yep. I'm no expert on electronics. Hell, I can hardly program my PVR. My job is to see if I can get some of the smartest people we have to come up with this database. I'm just here to clear the roadblocks and to make sure everyone plays nice," he grinned.
"I'm just new here. Why'd you pick me?"
"You may be new, but you have the right stuff as far as I could tell. Besides, didn't you ask for this?"
"Well ... not this exactly," I admitted.
"You'd rather have done somethin' else?" he tested.
I quickly replied, "Oh, no! I loved this project. I'm getting so much experience and learning so much."
He nodded and we continued with our lunch.
"So where do you hail from, Julie?"
Every time he said my name I got the shivers. "I'm from Salinas, California."
"I know you went to Stanford on scholarship and finished way up near the top of your class. Then you worked in a private business for a while. What attracted you to here?"
"I wasn't interested in being another worker-bee in a family business. I was looking for something more dynamic that would test me and give me an opportunity to contribute. I took a chance and sent my résumé here and got an interview. Three weeks later, I was called back and offered the job. I'm surprised things have happened so quickly, but I'm very happy that I did choose Kleinhauser."
"Your parents are still in Salinas," he said. It wasn't a question.
"Yes. My father is maintenance supervisor at the big lettuce plant. My mother works part time at a medical clinic in town."
He nodded. "Brothers or sisters?"
"Two brothers. Both work with Dad."
"Your family originally from Mexico?"
The whole line of questioning was very casual.
"My grandparents came to California in the fifties. And before you ask, yes they were legal immigrants," I stated emphatically.
"Take it easy, Julie," he said softly with a small smile. "I wasn't lookin' to give you a hard time."
My pulse rate was up, along with my blood pressure. So many people automatically assumed we were Illegals, and it pissed me off. Even Rance seemed to be implying that.
"I'm sorry if I upset you, girl. I didn't mean to. We have a number of Mexicans on our ranch. Far as I know, they are all there legally. Leastways, Dad would do what he could to make sure of that."
I nodded, thinking it smart not to let this conversation deteriorate any further. It was the first chance I had to talk to my dream cowboy, and I sure as hell didn't want to blow it.
"Do you miss being on the ranch?" I asked, hoping it would change the mood of our little talk.
"At times. It's not an easy life. Not as glamorous as people make out. If you don't have good help and if the cattle prices aren't steady, it can wear you out. Make you old too soon. My folks are lookin' to turn the "Three C" into a dude ranch someday not too long from now. I hate to see that, but I know it's the only way they can keep the ranch without it killin' them."
"You have any brothers or sisters to help?"
"I have a younger sister who's married and livin' in Pueblo. I doubt she and her husband will be takin' on the ranch when it's time."
"And you? Is this where you're going to be?"
He looked at me, a penetrating gaze that went right to my core.
"Time will tell," he said absently, looking away. "Lot of time to think about that yet."
I could sense I was in dangerous territory again and decided to shut up. Shortly after that, we rose and I began to walk away.