TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
The next day I woke up with both my hands down Ranger's pants, my mouth pressed up against his chest, and my legs intertwined with his. I could feel by the placement of my hands that he was interested in doing more than simply waking up.
"I'm sorry." I yanked my hands out of Ranger's boxers and tried to put some distance between us.
Ranger's arms snaked out and held me in a loose hug. "I didn't mind. I just wanted to make sure you were awake before I started to follow up."
"I don't think that's such a good idea."
"Really? Because I could make you change your mind."
"I know you could. And I want to, but I can't."
"You better be careful what you say to me, because I will take advantage of it", he said, and gave me a kiss that had me reconsidering my choices. His hand slid up from my hip to my breast, reminding me just how fantastic Ranger was in bed. He knows just when to be hard, when to be soft, when to go fast, when to go slow, when to be playful and when to be serious. Morelli was a fun, satisfying lover; Ranger was magic. He kissed my neck, my shoulder, my arm, and was working his way down when his phone rang. He paused for a moment, then reached over to answer it, never once taking his eyes off me. He listened to the caller, thanked them, and then hung up. "That was Hal and Roberto. They saw Brodie at his house but they don't have the Apprehension papers with them, so they can't pick him up. I'm calling Morelli now so he can go pick Brodie up." He dialled Morelli's number and passed on the message. After talking to him for a minute, he hung up and got out of bed. "Morelli will come over and have breakfast in my office when he is finished dealing with Brodie. As much as I would like to continue what we started, we need to get the day going."
Fine by me. It is easier living with unresolved desire than it is with guilt. I hope.
After showering I joined Ranger in his office. While we waited for Morelli to show up, Ranger got a call from Hal and Roberto. He put it on speaker call so that I could hear.
"We took over surveillance of Brodie's house at midnight. He wasn't home then, and didn't get home until a couple of minutes before I called you earlier this morning. Brodie must have only been picking up something, though, because he was only in the house for ten minutes, tops. He then came out with a large duffel bag, put it in the car and drove north. We followed him for two blocks, losing him at the set of lights at Elm and Empire. We then returned to the house to meet up with Morelli. We have just finished talking to him. Do you want us to continue to keep the house under surveillance?"
Ranger confirmed he would. As he disconnected the phone, my borrowed phone rang. Morelli was on the line. "We lost him. Damn. I am almost at Rangeman now, Cupcake. Ranger promised me a coffee and I could really use one. Do you want to meet me in the lobby?" I said I would.
I went down to the lobby, getting there just as Morelli finished signing in at the front desk. He gave me a hug and kiss that made me glad that the phone had interrupted Ranger and me this morning, and I escorted him up to the fifth floor where we met Ranger. We went down the hall to the break room, selecting our breakfast from the assortment that Ella keeps out for staff. Ranger selected a bagel with cream cheese and a container of fruit salad, Morelli dished himself up a bowl of hot oatmeal and grabbed a container of strawberry yogurt to go with it, and I chose a breakfast burrito. Taking our food and coffees back to Ranger's office, we shut the door and sat down. Morelli gave his version of what happened.
"I got there as fast as I could, but I got there too late. He was only home for about ten minutes, and I got there about two or three minutes after he left. I just missed him. I don't know where he is staying. I looked at his arrest papers yesterday, but I didn't find anyone listed who might be harbouring him. On our database he doesn't appear to have any family in the area. He has taken out some large withdrawals at bank machines near his house, but I am not picking up any credit card activity. I don't know if he is staying at a motel or something. I'm not sure what your search engines can find." He scraped out the last of the oatmeal from his bowl and licked his spoon.
"Bupkis", I said. "I ran him through the searches yesterday hoping to come up with something new. I found absolutely nothing more. The best bet that we have to capture him is to stake out the psychologist's office on Monday." I took a sip of coffee. "Did you talk to Dr. Fineman? Did he give you a time for Brodie's appointment?" I asked Morelli.
"I talked to him yesterday. He was trying very hard to help us. He was walking a very fine line between being helpful and protecting confidentiality and in truth he probably gave out more information than he should have. He didn't give a more precise appointment time other than late Monday morning though. And he said the same things he told you – that Brodie has a new focus, and this outlet is providing a release in tension. His anger management issues are improving and the psychologist thought that, if Brodie keeps up the momentum on his recovery, he should be able to go back to work soon. I didn't get the feeling the psychologist knew what exactly was providing so much assistance to Brodie." He finished the rest of his yogurt and took a sip of his coffee. "My parents and grandmother are going back to their house tomorrow, so I can take over protection detail. You can come and stay with me tomorrow evening, Cupcake. I still don't want you back in your own place until Brodie is caught."
"Whatever works best", Ranger said. "It is no problem having her stay here. It gives Ella someone else to fuss over. I will keep a car on Brodie's house as long as I can. I am short-staffed right now, so today might be the last day I can do it. We need to give copies of the Right to Apprehend papers to my surveillance staff, so they can capture Brodie immediately if they see him. Stephanie and I will take care of that today."
"I should have thought of that", I said.
"Can't change the past, Babe", Ranger said. "Let's just get the papers to them for the next time. If we can't catch him before Monday, Stephanie, Tank and I will go to Dr. Fineman's to apprehend him then. In the meantime, Stephanie has a number of skips to trace. She did the computer work on them yesterday, and we were going to go together today to pull in some of the high-value bonds. Vinnie is starting to panic about the amount of money he has outstanding. Including Brodie there are three high-value bonds, and those are just the outstanding ones as of today." Morelli whistled. Three high-value bonds outstanding means that Vinnie had overextended himself. "I have already told him that he is not allowed to rebond Brodie."
"Were you able to pull any fingerprints off the florist's card?" I asked.
"No, nor have we found the florist the flowers were bought at", Morelli answered.
I got my own phone out of my bag. "Does anyone want to hear my messages?"
"Hit me", said Morelli. I turned the phone on, put the phone on speaker and accessed my messages. I had five. There were two mouth breathers and three messages from the stalker. The first was "Steph-an-nie, did you like your flowers?" The second was "Steph-an-nie. You are trying to hide from me but I have already found you. It is my mission. You are going to die. It is just a matter of time." The third message was "Steph-an-nie. You are hiding in that building. You have to come out sometime. And when you do, you will die. I'm watching." I looked at Morelli. He had his show-no-emotion cop face on, but his inner turmoil was shown by his white face and stress lines bracketing his mouth. He reached into his pocket for his Rolaids. Ranger also had a poker face, hiding his thoughts. But there was a tightness around his eyes and shoulders that hinted at what was going on inside. On my side, I was having trouble keeping my breakfast down. I was scared out of my wits that he kept threatening me. Shaking, I turned my phone off again. There was a silence around the room.
Ranger took a deep breath and looked at me. "So, I guess the good news is that he appears to be staying close to the Rangeman building. It will make it easier to catch him. I have a problem though. I am so short-staffed I don't have the manpower to canvas the area."
"You should remain in the building today, Cupcake. It seems you are safe here", said Morelli.
"No way. I have some skips I have to capture. I can't wait in the building until Monday. My bank account needs that money now."
Morelli looked at Ranger questioningly. "If she leaves the building, will you be with her?"
"Yes, I will be with her at all times. We aren't going near Brodie's at all, and are just going after the other two high bonds."
"Do you think it is safe?" Morelli asked Ranger.
"No, I don't. If I had my choice, Stephanie would stay within the building and she wouldn't come out again until Brodie was safely behind bars. But I also understand that skip chasing is what Stephanie does, and she has to do her job. I don't have to like it, but I understand it. And I also understand it isn't in Stephanie's nature to be locked up, even if it is for her own protection. So unless things get worse, I am willing to take her out and act as her bodyguard. With a lot of luck, everything will be fine."
"I'm not sure if I find that reassuring or not. But you are right. Stephanie will do what Stephanie will do. Please keep me in the loop. I want to know immediately if anything changes."
Ranger and I agreed. Morelli got up from the table. As we cleaned up our garbage and took our dirty cutlery and crockery back to the break room, we made arrangements to meet at Pino's for dinner.
I walked Morelli down to Reception to sign him out. He pulled me to the side of the lobby and gave me a kiss that involved a lot of tongue, one hand warm at the base of my spine, the other sliding up under the hem of my shirt. I grabbed his hand and moved it back to my waist. "We're in the lobby and on camera, remember?"
"I'm sorry. I've missed you. Bob misses you. I can't wait until you are back at my place."
He gave me another quick kiss, and left me feeling confused. A big part of me missed Morelli, too. But when I am with Morelli, there is a big part of me that misses Ranger. The truth is, I love both men. They are each good men. And I can't imagine my life without either of them. I don't know what that says about me. I don't think it's anything good. I'm certainly not proud of myself for it. But that's the way it is. Someday I hope to figure out my love life. Judging by how confused I feel, that day won't be today.