TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
We decided to drive down to Hamilton Township first, to go after Elanski. A couple of minutes after leaving the Rangeman offices, Ranger announced we had a tail. After a series of quick turns and running through yellow lights, he announced we had lost it.
Elanski was a high-school teacher that, since his arrest, was on a leave of absence. I phoned him on the way, pretending to be an air duct cleaning company. When Elanski answered the phone, I went through my spiel about the importance of air duct cleaning. Elanski hung up on me, but not before I was able to confirm that he was in the house.
We parked five houses down the street. Ranger went to the back of the Cayenne and got out a bullet-proof vest for me as well as one for him. "Put it on, Babe. This could go south fast. He sounds like he could be a desperate man." After I put it on, he then gave me an ear-bud. "This ear-bud is set for sending and receiving. You will be able to hear me, and I you. It is a closed circuit between the two of us. It does not go to the control room. I will go towards the back of the house to cover the entrance there, but if anything goes wrong at the front of the house with you, let me know and I will come running." Ranger and I got back in the car and drove the five houses down the street to the Elanski house.
Ranger and I went up to the house. I went to the front door, and Ranger went to the back door. When Ranger whispered that he was in position, I rang the doorbell. There was a silence, then the sound of feet padding towards the door. The curtain in the window flanking the door twitched to the side. I rang the doorbell again. After a moment the door opened up. I put my foot in between the door and the frame so that Elanski would not be able to shut the door in my face.
Elanski was a good looking man. At roughly 5'10" tall, he had straight blond hair cut in a military style. He obviously spent quite a bit of time in the gym – he was all muscle. He was dressed in a gray button-down shirt that was rolled up at the sleeves and casual black twill pants. He looked so normal it was difficult to see him as a rapist and murderer. But then, what does a rapist and a murderer look like?
"May I help you?" he asked.
"My name is Stephanie Plum, and I represent your bail bonds office. You missed your court date and I have come to take you in so that you can get rescheduled."
"The charges are bogus. I am not coming in. I didn't do anything wrong. The girl told me she was eighteen. I didn't know I was having sex with a minor. I am a teacher, for Christ's sake. I wouldn't have sex with a minor purposely. I won't dignify the charge by coming in to court."
"If you think the charges are bogus," I told him, "then you need to go to court to tell the judge that. This arrest won't go away all by itself. You need to talk to a judge to do that, and you need to go to court to talk to a judge. It is time now to go into the station to get another court date assigned to you." I caught a glimpse of something moving behind Elanski out of the corner of my eye, and realized that Ranger had entered the house through the back door while I was talking to him.
"I'm not going in, you stupid bitch. How many times do I have to tell you?" and he came at me, arms outstretched, closing his meaty hands around my throat. He started to squeeze and I started to choke. I swung my hands and forearms up through the space in between his hands, and snapped my arms outward away from each other. This loosened his hold enough that I could breathe, but not enough to get away. I then stomped my foot down on his instep, but this too had little impact.
Gun trained on Elanski, Ranger shouted "bond enforcement", and reached around Elanski to snap a cuff on Elanski's wrist. That was when Elanski really started to fight. He kicked back at Ranger, and tightened his hold on my throat, propelling me away from the door and out onto the front porch. Ranger followed, holstering his gun. I tripped over the front step and fell on the ground, taking Elanski down with me, "accidently" on purpose kneeing him in the groin. Ranger reached down over us, grabbed him by the back of his shirt, and held a white-faced Elanski a few inches off the ground. Ranger gave him a shake.
"You are going to stop fighting and you are going to come with us now. Do you understand? Nod your head if you do." Elanski nodded his head. "Now, I am putting you down and cuffing you, and you are not going to try to get away. Do you understand?" Elanski nodded his head. "That's good. Because I am in a bad mood and I would love a chance to shoot you. And if you try to get away, I will shoot you. Do you understand?" Elanski nodded his head again. "Good. How are you doing there, Babe? Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Just bruised, I think". I got up off the ground, twisting my head side to side in an effort to ease the soreness in my throat.
Ranger put Elanski back on the ground, holding onto him while I reached around him and cuffed Elanski behind his back. Ranger walked Elanski to the back of his car and got out the shackles. He then shackled Elanski to the floor bolts in the back of the car and shut the door. I walked through Elanski's house, locking doors and making sure that the stove was off. I then took his keys and locked the front of the house.
Ranger and I walked Elanski into the police station together. The docket officer looked at me and gasped. "What happened?" he asked.
"Stephanie had a bit of trouble with the skip. He decided that it would be a good idea to choke her to death so he wouldn't have to go to court", Ranger said. "Do you want to press charges, Babe? I think it would be a good idea."
I was in a dilemma. I really didn't want to press charges. Although I hadn't seen the state of my throat, judging by its soreness and the officer's reaction I knew that Morelli would not be happy when he saw it. And I didn't want to hang around long enough for him to see it. Why worry him needlessly? He was already worried enough. But on the other hand, I didn't want anyone else to get strangled either and further charges against Elanski would only strengthen the existing case against him.
Morelli walked into the room and blanched when he saw my throat. "How did you know I was here?" I asked.
"Eddie saw you coming into the station and called me to come down. What happened?"
I explained that Ranger and I were doing a takedown, and Ranger was taking the back of the house and I was taking the front. I explained further that Elanski didn't want to come in to be rescheduled, so he decided to strangle me to get rid of me. And I explained that Ranger came through the house when he heard I was in trouble and pulled him off me, but not before Elanski had given me bruises.
"You are pressing charges, aren't you? This guy is a high school teacher. It is bad enough that he tried to choke you, but at least you are okay. I would hate for him to lose control at school and choke one of his students. I can put through the paperwork now so that you don't have to come back to the station." Phrased like that, I agreed to press charges. I picked up my body receipt and followed Ranger and Morelli through the bullpen back to the interrogation rooms. In the interrogation room there was a one-way window in which I was able to see my reflection. I gasped. I had black bruises coming up around my throat. I could see why the docket officer, Morelli and Ranger all wanted me to report the assault. I hadn't realized the damage was that extensive.
Morelli came in with a camera and took pictures of the bruises. Then he took separate statements from Ranger and myself. Forty-five minutes later we left with Morelli to go to the coffee shop across the street from the police station. The coffee shop was known for fast food, fresh doughnuts, and excellent coffee. It was always filled with cops, no matter the time of the day. It was set up cafeteria style, with a long display case, a deli behind the counter and a cashier at the end of the line. There were a few tables available for patrons to the left of the till. All the tables were currently in use. We decided that Ranger and I would wait for a table, and Morelli would get the food. I asked for an egg salad sandwich on a ciabatta bun, an orange juice, and a doughnut. I needed happy food. Ranger asked for a ham sandwich and a tomato juice. After waiting a few minutes we were lucky and a table opened up in the back corner. I sat to wait for the guys while Ranger went back to help Morelli with the food.
A few moments later, the guys arrived at the table and divided out the food. We started to eat. My throat hurt to swallow. I didn't eat all of my sandwich, I barely finished my orange juice, but I ate my entire doughnut. A girl has to have priorities. Morelli finished my sandwich and orange juice for me.
After lunch we headed back to the station, leaving Morelli to do his cop thing and Ranger and I to go off to capture Couch. Driving to State Street, we counted off houses until we got to the Couch residence. Parking a couple of houses down the street, we suited up in bullet-proof vests and earbuds again. Ranger also handed me a stun gun. "This guy has a history of domestic abuse. This means that he probably has a warped opinion of women. Take the stun gun. If he comes at you, stun him. I will be at the back door again, so I will be close by. If you need me, yell."
We walked up to the house, Ranger to the back door and me to the front. I waited until Ranger was in position before ringing the doorbell. Like Ranger taught me when he first started mentoring me, I stood to the side of the door. This was a good lesson, I thought as I heard the sound of Willy picking up his gun, followed milliseconds later by shots blasting through the door. "I'm okay" I said to the earpiece. There was silence from Ranger. I took that to mean he was okay, too. "Bond enforcement", I yelled. "Put your gun down." Another volley of shots were aimed at the door. "I'm okay", I repeated when Couch stopped shooting.
"I'm not going to no fucking jail", he yelled. "She had it coming to her. She's a fucking tramp. I saw her looking at that man in the grocery store. She talked to him. And then she told me she was just talking to him about the tomatoes, and how fresh the tomatoes tasted. Like I am supposed to believe that? No way, Willy, I said to myself. I'm smarter than that. She's just a fucking tramp. She was asking for me to hit her. You should be able to treat your wife the way God said you could. You should be able to punish your wife when she is bad. I didn't do nothing wrong."
I had a good Catholic upbringing and as a child attended church on a weekly basis. However, I could not remember it saying anywhere in the Bible that it was okay to beat your wife, let alone try to kill her. But I wasn't going to debate theology with him.
"You need to tell all that to the judge if you want to have the charges dropped. And to do that you need to go to court. Until the judge drops the charges, you are considered a felon. Now you need to come with us, to get your court date rescheduled, so you can get the judge to drop the charges." I reached around the door frame and pushed the door open. Another volley of shots erupted. "I'm okay", I whispered.
"I told you I'm not going to jail. Don't you listen to me? You are just as bad as my wife. I bet you talk to men, too. My wife didn't listen to me when I told her to stop talking to other men. She deserved what she got. I bet you deserve to be punished, too."
"She told you to put your gun down", Ranger said. I peeked around the corner of the doorframe, and saw Ranger standing behind Couch with a gun pressed to the back of Couch's head. Couch slowly put his gun on the floor and Ranger kicked it to the side. Ranger threw a set of cuffs to me and I cuffed Couch. As Ranger put away his gun Couch started to struggle against the cuffs, losing his balance and knocking me down onto the floor with him. Couch's head slammed upward on my bottom jaw, snapping my head back and resulting in me letting out an involuntary grunt of pain. Ranger reached down and punched Couch in the nose. Blood spurted out all over both Couch and me. "That's for shooting at Stephanie." Ranger picked Couch up by the shirtfront and threw him against the wall. "That's for hurting your wife." Couch collapsed at Ranger's feet. Ranger picked him up by the back of his shirt and marched him out to the car, shackling him to the floor bolts. I ran through the house, doing a fast check of windows, doors and oven, and locked up the house before joining Ranger. We took off our vests and put away the earpieces and stun gun, then got in the car.
Couch started to shout. "This isn't fair. My fucking wife asked for it. It wasn't my fault." He continued to rant and rave as we drove towards the station.
"You are a mess, Babe. You are covered in blood, and those bruises are getting darker. There are wet wipes in the glove compartment. You may want to clean up a bit before we get to the station, otherwise Morelli will have a coronary." I got the wipes out of the dash and started to wash up.
I turned to Ranger. "Did you ever wish you had one of those privacy windows in your cars, like the ones they have in limousines? Then we could put up the screen and we wouldn't have to hear this guy", I joked over the rantings in the backseat. Ranger gave one of his mouth-twitching smiles. He pulled up to a set of lights and stopped just as they turned red. As the car came to a complete stop, I heard the sound of a crack and felt the impact of a bullet on the back of the car. I froze. As Ranger reached over and grabbed my head and pushed it down between my knees, there was another bang and the window cracked into a gazillion pieces in front of me. Ranger ran the car up and over the curb, turned right and raced down Hamilton, away from the police station. He made a fast right, then right again until we were turned around, back towards the precinct. He started working through side streets, driving at top speeds, barely slowing down at stop signs. Couch was crying in the back. "Let me out of here", he said. "I don't deserve to die, you stupid bitch. This is all your fault. I'm going to die." He continued to rant and rave.
"Are you hit?" Ranger yelled over Couch.
"No. Are you okay?" I asked.
"Yeah. Can you call Morelli and tell him that we are dropping off Couch in two minutes? I want to talk to him when we get there. And keep your head down", he said, pushing my head down again as I started to sit up.
Ranger handed me his phone and I phoned Morelli. "We have a bit of a situation here", I said. "Ranger and I are okay, but we were just shot at."
"What happened?" he said in his serious, at-attention cop voice.
"Ranger and I picked up Couch this afternoon. On the way back we stopped at a red light and were shot at. We will be dropping off Couch in a couple of minutes. Ranger would like to talk to you when we do."
"I'll be waiting."
A couple of minutes later Ranger pulled up to the drop-off doors. Morelli ran out of the building, pulled me out of the car, and hustled me back into the precinct. He looked at me and at the blood on my shirt. "Where were you hit? I thought you said that you weren't hit", he said, frantically checking me all over for bullet holes.
"No, don't worry. The blood is from Ranger punching Couch in the nose when he resisted coming with us. The bullet shattered the front windshield but the glass didn't break. I'm okay. Just shaken."
"Thank God", he said, enfolding me in a tight hug.
"And I'm okay, too, thanks for asking", muttered Couch as Ranger led him over to the bench. Ranger cuffed Couch to the bench and went to move his car. I took my papers up to the docket officer and got my body receipt, all the while followed two steps behind by Morelli.
Ranger came in. "Can we talk somewhere private?" Morelli led us through the bullpen again into an interrogation room.
"What happened exactly?" Morelli asked.
"I picked up a tail a couple of blocks before we got to the lights. The tail got closer, and was right behind us by the time we got to the lights. I could not see who was driving. When we stopped at the red, all hell broke loose. The person behind us pulled out a gun and started shooting out the driver's side window. The first shot hit the edge of the rear window on the passenger side. I pushed Stephanie down. The second shot hit the rear window, went through the car and out the front windshield. This guy is a good shot. If I hadn't pushed Stephanie down, it would have hit her in the head."
"And the blood on Stephanie's shirt?"
"Off the record?" Morelli nodded yes. "Couch didn't want to be taken in. He was shooting at Stephanie, he knocked her to the ground, and basically was just resisting capture, so I broke his nose. It was either hit him or shoot him, and shooting creates a lot of paperwork. Stephanie just happened to be in the way of the blood splatter."
Morelli turned to me. "But you're sure you're okay?"
I nodded yes. "Just shaken."
"No wonder there. You've had a busy day. You've been threatened, strangled, and shot at twice. And it's not even dinner time."
"Have you listened to your messages recently?" asked Ranger.
"No. Do you want to hear them now?" When Morelli and Ranger nodded their heads, I got out my phone and put it on speaker. I keyed in my passcode to listen to my messages. There were two new messages. The first one was "Steph-an-nie. I saw you with that cop boyfriend and your bodyguard at lunch today. Nice bruises. You looked so happy. You looked like you didn't know you were going to die soon. Enjoy your time – you have so little left." I paused playing the messages for a few minutes to get my breath back. The thought that he had been so close and I missed seeing him was not sitting well with me. The second message had just been left minutes before. It was "I missed you this time. Your bodyguard is better than I thought he would be. But it's just a matter of time. It's my mission to kill you and nothing, and no one, will stop me. I know the places you haunt – your apartment, your parents' house, even your boyfriend's place. I looked it up. I will find you. And when I do, I will kill you."
There was a silence around the room. "I guess this means pizza at Pino's is off now?" I said. I was shaking.
Morelli came and sat beside me, putting his arm around my shoulders and pulling me into his chest. "I think this means you aren't coming to my place tomorrow, Cupcake. If it's still okay with Ranger, I would like to keep you at his place. His building is more secure than Fort Knox. As long as you stay within his building, you will be safe. From what your stalker said, you won't be safe at my place. And yes, Pino's is definitely out. I'll take you to Pino's when this guy is caught, I promise."
"It's no problem having Stephanie stay with me."
"But I can't catch skips if I can't go out of the building. I'll go nuts not being able to do anything. And I know I keep saying this, but it's a fact. I need the money."
"It's only until Monday afternoon. That's only two days away, and you can tough it out for two days, Babe", Ranger said. "And remember how I said I would have to hire additional staff? I could hire you since you are in the building anyway. This will solve my problem of me needing someone, and your problem of needing money. It's a win-win situation."
I looked at Ranger. "Thanks, but I don't want a pity job."
"It's not a pity job. You already know the search programs and you have done the job before. If you are working the research desk, it will free up another staff member to do patrol. I am incredibly short-staffed right now. You can have the job for as long as you would like – it doesn't have to be over when Brodie is caught. I am sure we can negotiate something, whether it is part-time or full-time. You would be doing me a huge favour to be able to drop someone experienced into the position."
I leaned into Morelli and thought about Ranger's offer. I thought about my situation and about the two men who were trying to protect me. And about Morelli, having to go out of his comfort zone to trust Ranger in an effort to keep me safe. And about Ranger, who gave up a few days when he was short-staffed, a car and almost his life to play bodyguard. "Okay", I said into Morelli's shirt.
"I'm sorry? I couldn't hear you, Cupcake", Morelli said.
I moved my face away from Morelli's chest. "Okay. Thank you for the job offer. I accept. It will keep me from going nuts while I am stuck in the building", I said to Ranger.
"You do have options, Babe. You can always go to the gym to fill up your time", Ranger said with a smile. I stuck my tongue out at him. He is always trying to convince me to get into better shape and I am always trying to get out of working out. "You realize that these phone messages mean you won't be going with Tank and me when we capture Brodie on Monday, don't you?" Ranger said.
"Fine," I pouted.
"I'm sorry, but I don't have the manpower to continue to keep a car on surveillance at Brodie's house", Ranger said to Morelli. "My instinct says he is staying at a hotel of some sort anyway, and he is paying for his room in cash. I think we should plan the takedown at the psychologist's office."
Morelli kissed the top of my head and rubbed my back in comforting circles. "I agree", he said. "Thank you for giving Stephanie a job."
"No problem. She's doing me a favour." We all stood up and Ranger started towards the door. "How about I bring the car up, and you can meet me in the drop-off area in five minutes? You may want to look at the bullet holes in the car." He turned around and left the room, giving Morelli and me some privacy. Morelli pulled me into a hug and tucked his chin over the top of my head.
"I have been more scared over the last few days than I was the whole time I was in the army. Probably more than I have ever been. If I had known this would happen, I would have bought stock in the Rolaids' company. I have been eating them like they were candy and they are barely making a difference to my heartburn. If this keeps up, I am going to have an ulcer before long."
"I am even glad you are at Ranger's," he continued, "and that he is giving you a job. I was always leery of you taking a job with Ranger, but now I think it is the lesser of two evils. You should consider doing it full-time. You would be safer doing research than skip tracing.
"I will miss you this weekend", he said, "but going into hiding is important for you to do. I'd rather miss you for the weekend than take a chance I would miss you for the rest of my life." He cupped my jaw in his hands and pulled my face up to a kiss that was so tender it had me melting inside. He pulled back and looked at me for a few moments, then leaned down and kissed the tip of my nose. He slung his arm over my shoulders and guided me out of the door to go meet Ranger.