TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
By a quarter to six I was feeling much better. I had taken some pain relievers, had a hot shower, had changed into more slouchy clothes, and had an hour's sleep. I felt more balanced and able to face hearing the messages again. Ranger came up and kissed me awake. "We will eat at the conference table in my office. We will eat from the food Ella puts out for the staff – I have already warned Ella and asked her to make extra. I don't have a problem with you being in my space, Babe, but there are very few people who have seen the inside of my apartment and I like it that way."
"I figured that. Lula has been after me for a tour and I keep avoiding telling her when I am coming here because I figured the last thing you need is to have Lula in your building."
Ranger smiled. Lula would wreak havoc on the building if she came here. "Are you feeling better now?" he asked.
"Much, thank you. I borrowed some more of your clothes. I hope you don't mind."
"I don't mind at all. I like knowing my clothes are near your naked skin." His lips twitched in an almost-smile. He gave me another kiss and helped me off the bed. "Morelli will be waiting for us – we had better get going." He led me from the bedroom and out the front door to the elevator. Together, we went down to the parking level to meet Morelli.
After helping ourselves to the small buffet that Ella had prepared in the break room, Ranger, Morelli and I carried our food into Ranger's office and set it on the small conference table. Ranger got my phone out and I played the two messages for the three of us to hear. Morelli listened to them, hiding his reaction by looking down at his shoe. At the end of the messages he looked up, his cop face firmly in place. "I think it is a good thing Stephanie is staying in the Rangeman building", he said.
"I'm worried", I said. "I couldn't bear it if anything happened to anybody because of me."
"Nothing will happen, Cupcake. He is just playing you. He doesn't want to hurt Ranger or myself. What he wants is for you to come out of hiding so he can kill you. You can't give him that. If you come out of hiding, it will be very difficult for us to protect you and ourselves. But if you stay in hiding we only have to look after ourselves. And that makes our job a whole lot easier."
"What worries me is that he has to be somewhere around here," Ranger said. "It seems like he is keeping his eye on the building, to know that Stephanie is still here. And I'm frustrated – because I'm so short-staffed I don't have the necessary manpower to find him."
"Now, tomorrow he is scheduled to meet with his psychologist for a late morning appointment. We don't know the exact time", he continued. "I would suggest that Stephanie stay here and continue working on the research desk, and Tank, Hal and I do surveillance in separate cars on the psychologist's office. We will show up at nine o'clock and will give him until one o'clock. We will be wearing earbuds which will allow us to talk to each other and to the control room at the same time. How does that sound for how we are handling it?"
"That sounds like a good plan. Where do you need me?" asked Morelli.
"I was thinking it may be a good idea to have you waiting in the actual office. With being police you will be able to get more information from Dr. Fineman and will have a better idea what is going on. I will give you an ear-bud before you go tonight, so we don't have to meet up each other tomorrow in case he is watching. I don't want to make it blatantly obvious we are setting up a net. I will also lend you a bullet-proof vest. The Kevlar I have is thinner to wear than the standard police issue, and will be more comfortable and cooler for wearing for as long a period of time as you will be wearing it sitting in the office."
"I was also thinking it might be a good idea for you to drive Stephanie's car home tonight. With Stephanie having a new car, I don't think Brodie has figured out what she drives yet. If Brodie is watching the building, he may have recognized you driving into the underground. If you drive out in Stephanie's car, he will hopefully not notice you in the dark tonight and won't follow you. I don't want you in danger when you are walking from your car to your house, or back again tomorrow morning. And I don't want your car recognized when Brodie goes to his appointment", Ranger said.
"What about me? I can't calmly work the research desk while you are all in danger! Can't I come, too?" I cried.
"NO!" Ranger and Morelli said at the same time.
"You can't come. You would be in an incredible amount of danger, and would put all of us in danger", Ranger said. "But I can see your point. I would have trouble doing research, too. How about this? Rafael will have a lot to do to coordinate what is going on with us at the same time as he monitors all the Rangeman facilities and vehicles. I will give you an ear-bud so you can work with Rafael here in the control room, then the two of you can monitor and coordinate what is happening. Would that work, Babe?"
Appeased, I said "okay. Just as long as I am involved." Ranger gave a small smile.
Morelli said "on another note, I followed up with the gun club this afternoon. Good catch, by the way, Cupcake. Of the five guns that he owns, two match the type of bullets we recovered from Stephanie's apartment and the car frame. It is circumstantial evidence, but would help to sway a jury. And the gun club said he is a crack shot. Be careful out there."
"Good", Ranger said. "Do we have a plan then?"
"Yes", Morelli and I answered.
"Okay. I hate to cut this time short, but I still have work to do on one of my new accounts that I need to get done tonight." He went over to his computer and plugged my phone in. "I will send copies of the last two phone messages to you, Morelli, so that you have the option to play them for Dr. Fineman if you want." He sat down at the computer and started typing. "Okay, you should receive them in a few minutes." Seconds later we heard the ping of Morelli's phone. Ranger got up and said "follow me to the storeroom and I will get those supplies I promised you. Stephanie, perhaps you can get Morelli your car keys while I do that?" When I came back Ranger was saying to Morelli "the ear-bud will only send when you are talking but will receive everything. I will go over how it is monitored with Stephanie tonight. Rafael has done monitoring of these earpieces before, so we will be well represented in the office." Ranger shook Morelli's hand and wished him luck. "With luck we will catch this guy tomorrow, and this will all be a bad memory."
I walked Morelli down to the parking garage. "How are you doing with all this?" he asked.
"Better than I was this afternoon. I was pretty upset."
"I don't blame you. I just wish I had known how dangerous this man was a lot sooner. I wish we had the information when we first booked him that we have now. Then he might not have been released on bail in the first place. At some point I will need to get you to file an assault charge based on him throwing the dirt in your face and the money at you. I will get Dr. Fineman to identify the voice on the recording tomorrow. That will provide more evidence as well. I want to tie this up nice and tight. I don't want to take the chance this guy gets off and comes back to terrorize you again."
"And if I wasn't such a bumbling idiot", I said, "then I would have captured him the first time around and we wouldn't be going through this. It just tears me up to think I am putting you in danger."
"It is my job", he said.
"And I hate your job. Your job sucks."
"Isn't that my line? And it only sucks sometimes, Cupcake. Usually it is pretty routine."
"And isn't that my line?" I asked with a smile.
He pulled me into a kiss. "Do you know what I would like to be doing right now?" And he whispered a few suggestions in my ear.
"Stop – you'll make me blush", I smiled. "Besides, I am out of commission for the next few days."
"That makes me feel better about you staying with Ranger", he smiled. He leaned down and gave me a tight hug. After giving me a deep kiss, he whispered "stay safe" in my ear and walked out to my car.