TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
Ranger, Morelli, Tank and Hal brought their lunch down from the break room to meet Raphael and me in the big boardroom. We each had an assortment of sandwiches, fruit, vegetables and yogurts to eat, and waters, milk and juices to drink. "One thing about Rangeman," Morelli said, "the food sure is better than at the precinct."
"It may seem like we didn't accomplish much this morning," said Ranger, "but we did do some things. We were able to get out of the building without being followed, which cements our thought that Brodie is only interested in Stephanie. The fact that we all went different directions and staggered the time in which we left probably helped as well."
"I don't know if he will keep his promise to make the Thursday appointment, but we have identified that as another surveillance date", Morelli pointed out.
"In the meantime, Stephanie and I will do some basic self-defence training. And we will continue to practice shooting." Turning to me, Ranger said "I want you to be as prepared as possible in case you ever come up to this guy face to face again."
"I don't need self-defence and shooting lessons", I said.
"The bruises on your neck say otherwise, Babe", Ranger said.
"I also need to take your statement regarding the mud-throwing incident", Morelli said to me. "I already have your statements for the two shootings."
"Do you know whether you have received any more messages yet today?" asked Ranger.
"No, I don't." I pulled my phone out of my pocket and turned the power on. I got into my message centre, then turned up the volume. There was one message since I had last accessed my voicemail. "I warned you that people will die. If you don't come out to meet me, I will come in and root you out like the little cunt you are. Your bodyguard will die; your cop-boyfriend will die; I will kill everyone in that building and save you for last. That's not a threat. That's a promise. Only you have the power to save all the people in that building. If you come out, I will save the other people. You get to choose between you and the others – how selfless are you?"
There was a silence around the room. "That message was left at ten o'clock this morning", I said quietly, with a catch in my throat.
"I will put all staff on high alert and inform the staff working Reception to keep their guns ready", Tank said.
"He sounds angry", Rafael said.
"Don't worry, Stephanie", Hal said, "he won't be able to get into the Rangeman facility. It is locked up pretty tight here. Ranger designs only the best."
Morelli and Ranger sat looking at me. I wrapped my arms around my middle and bent forward slightly at the waist, looking down at the ground. "I'm not okay with this", I began. "Maybe it would just be better if…"
"Don't say it!" Ranger interrupted. "We've been over this, Babe. If you go out there our attention will be divided between protecting you and protecting ourselves, and we could get hurt as a result. And so could you."
"I just don't want anyone to get hurt", I said in a tortured voice, still not meeting anyone's eyes.
"No one will get hurt as long as you continue to stay here, Cupcake", Morelli said. "Hal's right. Ranger does design the best security systems and the crown jewel is this building. You will be safe here. And I agree with Ranger. You being safe will help keep all of us safe."
"Stephanie, our staff are well trained. We can handle this threat. The only one not okay with this is you, and we are telling you we have your back, and that we will find and capture this guy. It may take a bit of time. You may be holed up here longer than you had expected. But we will catch this guy. And then you'll be safe." That was the longest speech I had ever heard Tank say. He is usually the silent but steady guy.
The meeting wrapped up shortly afterwards. Morelli and I stayed back in the boardroom so I could give my assault statement. After giving my statement and signing the paperwork, I walked Morellli down to the underground parking. Just outside the elevator doors, Morelli wrapped his arms around me and gave me a tight hug. "Don't worry, Cupcake", he said, "we will catch this guy."
"I know. I just worry about the number of people who will go down in the process."
"Don't torture yourself. If you are safe, the chances of having others go down are lessened", he replied. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm glad you're at Ranger's. The best protection I could provide would be to handcuff you to the furnace and wait for Bob to lick the guy to death." He angled his head down for a kiss, and pulled my body against his until there was no space between us. He put his hands under the hem of my shirt and lightly stroked the undersides of my breasts with his thumbs. I kissed him back for a few moments, then pulled back slightly. It felt sort of weird to be with Morelli when I was in Ranger's building on Ranger's cameras. I gave Morelli a playful, smacking kiss and told him that I had to get back to work. I think I handled it okay, because he smiled and watched me as I got back in the elevator, then turned around and walked to his car.