TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
There are two main stations in the control room. The first monitors all Rangeman properties, vehicles, and the police band. The second monitors all client sites. Monitoring can be via video, GPS and/or audio link. Staff work in four hour shifts, with the remaining four hours of the workday spent in patrol cars. The monitoring stations are staffed 24/7. A quiet area in the building, lights are dim and staff often speak to each other in whispers. Where I would be working was a desk just off the control room. It is infected by the quiet although a desk lamp makes up for the dimness in light. The lack of sound puts me to sleep.
Hal was working the client monitoring station on the floor. I've known Hal for a long time. Nicknamed Halosaurus, he is as big as a stegosaurus. He's very kind, fiercely loyal to Ranger, and would do anything to help you. He worked a protection detail for me a few months ago, and we have remained friends ever since. I was glad to see him again. He gave me a huge smile and welcomed me back on the floor.
The second person was Eduardo. He was new to me. He was small and wiry, with tattoos all over his arms and neck. With his two tear drop tattoos under his eye, denoting that he had killed two people in his past, he looked fierce. I sidled closer to Ranger when I met Eduardo. Eduardo said hi, then turned back to his perusal of his screens. He didn't seem very friendly.
Ranger took me back to my desk before giving me a quick kiss and going off to his meeting. Miguel had left the desk very tidy. There were a pile of files in the "in" basket on the desk. Ranger wasn't kidding when he said they were getting backlogged. It would take me a few days to get caught up. I checked the drawers and found the usual sticky notes, labels, pens, paperclips and stapler. There was a printer on the table behind me with extra printer paper and file folders. Everything looked like it was all set and ready to go. I sat down and turned on the computer. I spun my chair around in a circle and listened to the quiet. And I remembered that the last time I worked on the research desk I fell asleep. While I waited for the computer to boot up, I went back up to Ranger's apartment and got my phone and a set of earphones from my bag. I went back down to the research desk, cued up my favourite playlist, and plugged in my earphones. I was set for the day.
I sorted the files into those requested by Ranger, those requested by Operations, and those requested by Sales. The files requested by Tank I included with the ones requested by Operations, although I put them at higher priority in the Operations pile. Ranger had four companies and their associated staff that he wanted searched. Each company had at least twelve staff to research. I took out my earphones and paused my playlist. I walked back to the break room to get a coffee, asking Hal and Eduardo whether they would like something while I was back there. Hal smiled and thanked me, saying that they had just got coffees a few minutes before. Eduardo nodded in my direction, barely taking his eyes off the monitors. I think that was his way of thanking me as well.
I helped myself to a coffee, then headed back to my desk. I took a deep breath, then opened the file from Ranger that was the oldest. I got started on searching the company particulars as well as searching each member of the staff. By lunchtime I had printed off reams of paper and had finished the first file. I went to the break room, meeting up with Miguel.
"I am so glad to be off the research desk", Miguel said. "I really missed being out in the patrol car. I find it hard sitting in one spot for so long. I tell you, I sure did my happy dance when I heard you were coming." I smiled. I wasn't doing my happy dance doing the research. I too found it hard to sit for so long.
I ate a roast beef and Havarti with mustard, mayo, lettuce and tomato on a Kaiser for lunch. I also had some carrot and celery sticks with dressing. I washed it all down with a bottle of cranberry juice. After catching up with Miguel, I headed back to the desk to start the research on the second company. Miguel headed to the control room station, to take over monitoring duty from Hal.
On a whim, I decided to call the three gun clubs in the Trenton area to ask if they had a Pete Brodie listed as a member. The second gun club I called did. I asked for a list of the guns that Pete Brodie owned, and got a list of five guns. Amongst these guns, one was a sniper rifle and one was an automatic pistol. I phoned the information in to Morelli and put it aside for Ranger to see after his meeting.
By three o'clock I was almost glad when Ranger showed up at my desk and reminded me that it was time to go down to the shooting range. As much as I hated using guns, I was pretty much ready to shoot myself. I told Ranger about my findings about Brodie being a member of the gun club.
"Good work", he said. "I didn't think about checking the gun clubs. This could give Morelli some more evidence to be used against Brodie when it is time to convict him."
We went down to the basement to the shooting range. We were the only people there. Ranger had me practice pulling the weapon out of the holster. Then he gave me a box of bullets, and had me practice loading the gun. Finally, he cued a target up, sending the target half way down the length of the shooting range. I practiced shooting the target at the closer distance before Ranger sent another target back to the full distance. I then practiced shooting the target at the farther distance. When my arm was getting tired from holding the gun and shooting it, Ranger said I was finished for the day. He said we would do the whole thing again tomorrow, and would continue to do so daily until I could shoot a bulls-eye consistently. Oh, goody. Practicing shooting the gun reminded me again of why I don't like shooting guns. I have never hoped for a bulls-eye so much in my entire life.
On the way back up to my desk Ranger and I were talking about the research I was doing. He asked me how it was going. "It is better doing it this time than it was the last time I was here. I got my phone out and have been listening to music, and that is the only thing that has kept me awake. It would be helpful if I knew what you were looking for when I am doing the searches. I could maybe then read the files as I am waiting for them to print and see if I can pull something out, highlight something for you to look at. It would keep me from falling asleep."
Ranger thought that it might be helpful to highlight concerns on sticky notes, and attach them to the print-offs. He said for his files he wants to know any past criminal history of any employees, and to know relationships between the employees. He also said that, if something comes up that seems off to me for whatever reason, he wants to know that too. "You have a keen instinct. I want to take advantage of that. If anything seems wrong to you, even if you don't know why, I want to know." Okay by me. Hopefully doing the analysis will keep me awake and sane.
We got up to the control room, and Miguel said my phone had been ringing. I apologized. I had forgotten to turn off my phone before leaving for the shooting range, and had left my phone on my desk. "Let's listen to your messages", Ranger said, and picked up my phone and took it into his office. He handed me my phone, letting me key in my passcode and turn up the volume. Two messages were recorded. The first was "Steph-an-nie! Come out, come out wherever you are. This is like hide and seek. I'm good at hide and seek, and I know where you are hiding. It's just a matter of time now. You can't stay in there forever." The second was a very angry-sounding "Steph-an-nie! Is your bodyguard prepared to die while he is trying to save you? Is your cop-boyfriend? Because if I don't find you soon, I will kill both of them. And it will all be your fault. Think about that when you are attending their funerals."
I turned white and started to shake. I started hyperventilating and my vision went cobwebby and black around the edges. Ranger, taking one look at my face, guided me into a chair and pushed my head between my knees. "Deep slow breaths, Babe. In through the nose and out through the mouth", he said quietly. After a minute or so he let me sit up again, but when I went to talk he interrupted me, saying "not yet. Just concentrate on your breathing".
When I had some colour in my face and I had stopped shaking, I said "I'm sorry. I just find it upsetting to think that he is now going after you and Morelli. This is about me, not you. I'm the one who has wronged him, in his mind. This is just like my dream. Why does he have to threaten you?"
"Because by hiding you away we are getting to him. He thinks he is smarter than us, that he will be able to draw you out by threatening us."
"But maybe that is what I should do. Maybe I should go out where he can see me, so he stops threatening you."
"No. He is playing with you like a cat plays with a mouse. And that will work if you let it, if you give in to the game he is playing. You can't do that. It is imperative you stay in the building. Did you hear how angry he sounded? He is starting to get off-balanced and we will be able to use that to our advantage. We just have to remain calm and stay the course.
"I think we should phone Morelli now to tell him about the new threat", he continued. "Perhaps we should invite him over for dinner? Then Morelli can hear the message himself. What do you think?"
"Sure, you can invite Morelli. But tell him to be careful. I don't want this to be Brodie's trap, luring Morelli to the Rangeman building so that he can target Morelli."
"I will tell him to park in the underground parking." Ranger called Morelli. "There have been another couple of messages on Stephanie's phone. We were wondering whether you would like to come into the office to have dinner here so that you can listen to them." I then heard Ranger say "she's okay, but shaken. These messages were especially upsetting to her. More so with these than with the rest." There was a pause, and then Ranger said "I think we should stay the course. We can talk about it more when you get here. Say about six o'clock? Oh, and I will tell Reception you are coming and will park in the underground parking lot. When you get to the gate, just buzz in and they will lift the gate for you." Ranger hung up the phone. "You look beat. Do you want to have a nap before Morelli shows up?"
"Maybe a hot shower?"
"Still feeling crappy?"
"Have a hot shower and a nap. I'll come wake you at a quarter to six. Okay?" I nodded my head before turning around and escaping upstairs into a hot shower.