TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
Ranger and I started first by going to the office to pick up the additional files. They were two high bonds – good for me. I put them in my purse to join the other three, and picked up my cheque for Paulo.
Hearing my voice, Vinnie came roaring out of his office. "Do you know how many people you have swinging in the wind? I am bleeding out here. I'm going to go broke, and that means that you will lose your job. Do I need to hire Joyce Barnhardt to help you?" I frantically shook my head "no". Joyce has been my enemy since I was in kindergarten, when she "accidently" spilled paint all over my new dress on picture day, leaving me to have my pictures taken with a big red splotch down my front. Our hate relationship progressed to Joyce telling everybody that I ate my boogers when I was eleven, a situation which resulted in me being known as Booger Face at school for a month, through to when I found her shagging my husband of three months on my dining room table when I was in my early twenties. More recently she has aspired to be a bounty hunter. She is an even worse bounty hunter than I am, and generally just steals my skips and runs around in tight black leather yelling "freeze, bond enforcement". She hasn't actually caught anyone, but has interfered in several of my captures. She is a slut, however, and her time in the sack with Vinnie makes her Vinnie's first choice to put on skip tracing when the office gets a backlog.
"That's okay. I will help Stephanie for a few days", said Ranger. I looked at him gratefully.
Vinnie got a sharp gleam in his eyes. "I don't know what Stephanie had to do to get you to help her. I can only imagine how good she is in bed". There was a gasp from Lula, Connie and myself. The temperature in the room dropped a few degrees as Ranger glared at him. Vinnie continued on, oblivious to the sudden silence. "Good going, Steph. We need the help. Thanks for taking one for the team." Vinnie turned around and started towards the door.
"Wait", commanded Ranger.
Vinnie slowly turned around, frantically trying to figure out what he said that would cause Ranger to be angry. "What? I thanked her", he whined.
"Stephanie is not, nor will ever, provide sexual favours to me in return for helping her chase skips. This time I am helping her because someone – we think it is one of her skips on a bond that you wrote – is threatening her life. I am going along with her to provide bodyguard services. If I ever hear of you pimping out Stephanie another time, I will steal Stephanie from you and provide her with a job, and I will never work for you myself again. Do I make myself clear?"
This was a serious threat, as Ranger chased all the very dangerous skips, as well as those that crossed state and international boundaries. If Ranger wasn't doing the skip chasing, Vinnie would have to do it himself. Vinnie swallowed audibly, nodded his head and turned to go back to his office.
"Wait", ordered Ranger again. He waited until he had Vinnie's attention. "I think you owe Stephanie an apology. Oh, and Vinnie? If I find out you have bonded out this stalker again once we bring him in, I will hunt you down and kill you."
Vinnie reluctantly turned back to me. "I'm sorry, Steph. You know I didn't mean anything by it, don't you? I just thought … well, it doesn't matter what I thought. I'm sorry. And I won't rebond him out." And he glanced at Ranger, turned around and ran back into his office, closing and locking the door behind him before Ranger could call him back again.
I looked at Ranger. He still looked angry. It was a shock – Ranger doesn't usually show emotion. You have to know him very well to be able to pick up the signs. I have seen him in many situations, but I don't think I have ever seen him so blatantly angry. There was a silence over the room, and Connie and Lula looked at Ranger. I don't think they had ever seen him like that either. Ranger turned to Connie and Lula and explained quietly that someone was threatening me and leaving messages on my phone, by graffiti, and more recently, by flowers. He then told them about me being shot at the night before. He said the stalker, as yet, did not have my cell phone number and asked Connie and Lula to make sure it wasn't given out.
"Oh, oh", Lula said. "Someone called earlier for you, Steph, and would not leave his name. He asked for your cell phone number and I gave it to him. I hope that wasn't your stalker dude. I'm sorry. I didn't think it was a big deal. You hand out your business cards all the time and they have your cell phone number on them."
Lula obviously felt bad about what happened. I told her it normally wouldn't have been a big deal. It is just she didn't know this other stuff was going on. I told her it was my fault for not keeping her and Connie in the loop.
"I will lend Stephanie another cell phone today", said Ranger, "and we'll call the office with the change in number." We started for the door.
"Wait", said Lula. She ran over to me and gave me a huge hug. "Go get that son of a bitch." Connie yelled out "stay safe" from behind her. Ranger and I turned around and headed out the door.
My cell phone rang. I picked up, to hear "Steph-an-nie. Did you like my flowers?"
"Who is this?" I asked. Ranger threw me back against the front of the bonds office, and sandwiched me between the front of the office and his own body. My hands started to shake.
"I can see you. I'm watching you right now. Smile and wave", the caller said before he hung up.
Ranger and I looked all over, but could not see anyone or anything out of the ordinary. "Next time put it on speaker phone, okay?" Ranger asked. "But right now why don't you turn off the phone. Let him stew for a while."
"Where to now?" Ranger asked once we got into his Cayenne. I told him that I would like to drive by my parents' house, to see the progress on the removal of the graffiti. On the way I went over all the information on the Brodie file. I gave him Brodie's particulars. I told him about the results of the last two attempts to capture him. His lips twitched and his eyes crinkled when I told him about Lula tripping me up as she tried to pick up the money. "No matter how bad things get, you can always manage to cheer me up", he said.
I told him I had spoken with Brodie's psychologist. I explained that the psychologist was optimistic about Brodie's recovery and his anger issues, and told him the psychologist said Brodie had found a new focus that was helping him in his anger management. "Yeah," replied Ranger, "that new focus is terrorizing you."
We drove to my parents' house. The front of the house was newly painted. Gone was the mustard yellow and brown siding, instead replaced by a pale yellow house with a dark red door. It looked somewhat respectable beside the lime green house next door. I didn't know what I thought about the change in colour. The house had been brown and mustard yellow for so long it was a bit of a shocker to see it in a butter yellow. Although I had to admit it looked nice, it was a change. And I rely on the sameness, the never-changing stability that my parents' house always represents to me.
My grandmother was looking out the front door. I asked Ranger to stop for coffee. "Isn't this nice?" my grandmother asked. "We just got back from Giovichinni's. We bought an Entemann's raspberry almond coffee cake and there is a fresh pot of coffee on. You came at a good time." I gave Grandma a hug and we walked back to the kitchen to see my mom. I poured a cup of coffee for Ranger and myself and put some cream in mine, and got plates and forks for everyone. We all sat down at the kitchen table. My mom dished up cake for everyone other than Ranger. Ranger never eats cake. I, on the other hand, had two pieces.
"So I noticed that the house was painted?" I asked my mom. "It's a change from what was there beforehand."
"Yes. I've always wanted a pale yellow house. And I've always wanted a red door. But I never could get it because there was nothing wrong with the colour of the siding before. And red wouldn't have gone with a yellow and brown house."
"The last time we painted", she continued, "your dad wanted a brown house and I wanted a yellow house, so we compromised. When they couldn't get the graffiti off, though, they told me that it would have to be repainted. And I just thought – why not? Your dad wasn't here to argue, so I picked out the colour and had them start the painting before your dad got home from his cab runs. And now that it's finished, he likes it!"
I asked my grandmother whether she had seen anything suspicious over the last couple of days. She said that she had seen a man looking at the house, but she wasn't sure whether he was suspicious or just looking at the graffiti. "That was a pretty shocking painting, you know. I wouldn't blame anyone for wanting to look at it", she said. "I spent a good half hour myself memorizing it so that I could tell everyone at the beauty salon all about it."
"Was he hanging around? Did you call Joe?"
"I thought about it. But by the time I decided I should call Joe and went to get the phone, he was gone. Do you think I should have gone to call Joe sooner?" Grandma asked.
I didn't want to upset Grandma by saying yes. "I don't know. It could have been nothing. Did you see the car he drove?"
"No. It was the strangest thing. He just disappeared – poof – when I was out of the room."
"Okay. Let Joe know if you see him, or anyone else, again. Joe needs to know", I emphasized.
I told my mother I would be borrowing a cell phone from Ranger for a few days. "What trouble are you in?" she asked. "First you need to stay at our place, then our house is desecrated, then you come here and tell me that you have a new phone number. I'm not stupid. Is someone after you?" She took a deep breath and turned white. "Is someone stalking you?" she asked, looking longingly at the cupboard where her whiskey is kept.
"No! Why would you think that? I just misplaced mine. Jeez." Her eyes turned back to me and you could see she really wanted to believe me. I told her I would be calling with the new number when I had it.
"You will have that number by the end of the day", Ranger said. We got up to leave, both of us thanking my mother and grandmother for the hospitality. As we left the house, we looked out at the street. It was quiet. There were no strange men looking at the house. There was no one admiring their work. Ranger walked to the car with his hand ready on his gun anyway.
We drove by Brodie's house, but there weren't any cars in the driveway. We went up to the door, Ranger standing behind and to the side of me on the porch. We rang the doorbell, but there were no noises inside the house. No sounds of the TV droning, no sounds of water running, no sounds of dogs barking. We walked around the house, looking in the windows. There was a bowl and a spoon draining in the dish rack, and there was a dirty coffee cup sitting on the counter. The dishes looked like they were still wet. We had not missed Brodie by very much.
We drove to the coffee shop. Going inside, I showed the cashier Brodie's picture and asked if she had seen Brodie recently. She said that he had just been in, that he had left about ten minutes before. And that he was different – he seemed happy, not at all upset like he normally was. She admitted they have a rule in the shop that he gets served first when he comes in. She also said they all breathe a sigh of relief when he gets his coffee and leaves. I asked whether he usually comes in for more than one coffee in a day and she confirmed that he did not. I asked if he had a standard time that he comes in and she said that he usually comes in at some point in the morning, but that he didn't come in every day, nor did he always come in during the morning. Sometimes he came in during the afternoon.
The line behind me was starting to get restless. I thanked the cashier and put a couple of dollars in the tips jar on the counter. We turned around and left the shop, walking to the car.
"What next?" Ranger asked.
"I could try the psychologist again, but I don't think we will get any information from him. The last time I spoke with him he cited patient confidentiality."
"You spoke to him over the phone last time, right? Let's try him in person this time", Ranger said. I explained to him I did not have an address for the doctor, but only had a name and phone number. "No problem", Ranger replied. He called Rangeman and asked for an address, reciting Dr. Fineman's phone number. A couple of minutes later Ranger's phone rang with an address down on Hamilton, located near the hospital.
Ranger drove me to the psychologist's, parking on the street a couple of cars down from the office. Located in a century home, it was a red-brick building with black shutters, a black door, and a white porch. There was a silk-flower wreath on the door and a sign that said "please make sure the door shuts fully when entering". I assumed that there was a similar sign on the other side of the door for people who are leaving.
We entered the waiting room. There was a reception desk and about ten comfortable-looking chairs. On the reception desk was a sign inviting us to take a seat, saying that Dr. Fineman was currently with a patient, and would be out shortly. We looked around the room. There was a couple already there, waiting for the next appointment. They were obviously there for marital counselling, as they were seated with two chairs between them. They were shooting daggers at each other with their eyes. They ignored us.
Ranger and I sat down beside each other on the other side of the room, facing the door to the treatment room. I picked up a magazine and started flipping through it. Ranger sat at what I like to call "restful attention", the sitting version of parade rest. At first glance he would appear to be totally relaxed. He was lounging on the chair, his eyes at half-mast, legs stretched out. But when you looked at his eyes you could tell he was totally aware of what was going on and his hand was resting on his gun. I could hear some murmuring coming from the treatment room door, but I could not make out whether the person talking was a man or a woman.
After ten minutes, the murmuring got louder and I could make out a man and a woman talking. The woman's voice was more strident, couched in tears. The man's voice was more sympathetic in nature. He came to the door saying he would like to see her again in a week. He pulled out his appointment book to arrange a time with her. She took the appointment card and grabbed a couple of tissues, then left the office, carefully avoiding the eyes of everyone in the waiting room.
Dr. Fineman looked at the people in the waiting room. "Mr. and Mrs. Brockman, why don't you go into my office. I will be there in a couple of minutes." He shut the door behind them before turning to us. "Hi, I'm Dr. Fineman. May I help you?"
"We are looking for a man named Pete Brodie. I believe Stephanie spoke to you on the phone the other day", Ranger said. "He was arrested for assault and Stephanie started tracking him a week ago. We have been unable to capture him at this point. Do you know where I could find him?"
"No, I am sorry. As I explained to Stephanie on the phone, I do not know where Pete is. Even if I did, I would not be able to provide you with that information due to patient confidentiality."
"Did he come in for his Thursday appointment?"
"Yes, he did."
"When is your next appointment with him?" Ranger asked.
Dr. Fineman thought for a moment, then decided that it wouldn't infringe on his patient's rights to answer the question. He went to his appointment book and flipped through the pages. "His next appointment is Monday morning."
"As fugitive apprehension officers, we are tracking Brodie because he skipped out on his bond. But you will also be visited by the police, probably today, because Stephanie has a stalker and has received several death threats over the past week – all since she started tracking Brodie. Because of the nature of the threats the police are reasonably certain Brodie is the person threatening Stephanie."
"Oh, my. He seemed to be getting better. He doesn't seem nearly as angry. I thought that he was making real strides in therapy. I was even thinking of approving his return to work soon." Dr. Fineman was half talking to himself.
"When did you notice a change in him?" Ranger asked.
"For the last two sessions he has been mellower. He seemed to have something else in his life that was giving him a focus, which was channelling his anger away from constantly erupting. He hasn't even tried to throw anything at me in over a week. I thought it was the breathing exercises that I had given him that were working."
"Can you tell us anything else?"
"Just that he doesn't want to go to jail. He seems to be quite worried about going, and would do anything to avoid it. But you probably already know that."
"Thank you for your time. I will be passing this information on to the police. You can expect a visit from them in the near future, probably today."
We left the office, carefully shutting the door as Dr. Fineman hurried into his inner office to his next appointment. Ranger called Morelli as we walked to the car, eyes alert and scanning the area around us the whole time.
"I have someone for you to visit. A Dr. Fineman, on Hamilton. He is Brodie's psychologist. You may be able to get more information from Dr. Fineman than we did. He was helpful to us though – he did give us some information despite pulling the confidentiality card. From the information that we got from him, he said Brodie is becoming more focused, more in control of his anger. That over the last week he has made great inroads in his anger management issues. Brodie's next appointment is Monday morning. Will you have a chance to speak to Fineman today?" Ranger listened for a moment and beeped open the car, ushering me into the passenger seat. "Okay, we'll catch up with each other this afternoon, when you have had a chance to talk with the doctor." Ranger hung up and shut my door. He got in the car and started it up. "Sorry, Babe, but it's time to go back to Rangeman. I have a meeting with a client in half an hour, and I still need to grab a bite to eat. I want you to stay in the building if I'm not with you, okay? You can use the phone in the office in my apartment, and feel free to use the computer there for your searches. When I get back to Rangeman I will arrange to have a couple of guys stake out Brodie's home. We'll see if we can catch him when he returns home."
When we got back to Rangeman we went to the staff room for some lunch. I had a bowl of potato and leek soup, some breadsticks and a container of fruit salad. I looked for some cookies or a brownie for dessert, but Ranger doesn't stock them. To Ranger, dessert is devil's food. Ranger selected a tuna and sprouts sandwich and an apple, and motioned for me to follow him into his office. He closed his door after us. On his desk was a cell phone with a phone number on a sticky note. We quickly ate our lunch, me burning my tongue on the soup in my haste to finish before his appointment. Ranger keyed in the new cell phone number on his own phone and handed the new phone to me. He gave me a deep kiss that was making me forget that I had someone stalking me. As his hand crept up my side towards my breast, his phone rang. Ranger looked at his watch and sighed. "My appointment is here", he said, and he picked up the phone. He listened for a moment, then said that he would be down in a minute to meet his client at Reception. He turned to me, gave me a quick kiss, and reminded me to stay in the office. "You are welcome to walk around the building. Just stay inside. And remember to carry your new cell phone with you at all times."