TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
Ranger came to get me at three o'clock again. He had a box of bullets in his hand. "The gun looks good on you, Babe", he said and he gave a little smile.
I looked at him quizzically. "What are you smiling about?"
"Just admiring the view. There is something wildly erotic about a sexy badass woman with a gun."
We worked on drawing the gun from the holster, and loading the gun again. We then worked on stance for a while. I only shot at the far targets today, and by the end of the hour I was doing much better. I didn't hit any bulls-eyes, but I did get some in the inner circles. Ranger seemed pleased as well.
We went next to the gym. "I don't need self-defence lessons. I just kick someone in the nuts and that seems to solve the problem", I complained as I took off my gun and stripped down to my yoga pants and t-shirt.
"What about if the assailant grabbed you before you were able to kick them?" he said, and like a shot grabbed me from behind and held me tightly, one arm around my throat and the other holding my arms down at my sides.
I just stood there. "I don't know what I'd do, but I'm sure I'd think of something", I said.
"So do it. Think of something and get out of this."
"I don't want to take the chance that I will hurt you."
"Don't worry about me. I don't hurt easily. Go ahead. Try to get out." I struggled a bit, not wanting to hurt Ranger. "You can do better than that. I have seen you in action. Come on, try to get out." And he taunted me until I started to struggle in earnest. I couldn't get out, though, no matter what I did. Every time I loosened his hold, he redoubled his efforts and tightened the hold again.
After a few minutes, Ranger let me go. "That is why you need self-defence lessons, Babe. You have to be able to get yourself out of any situation. Kicking someone in the balls only works if you can reach the balls. The way I was holding you, it would have been impossible to kick me. And that move only works on men. Gouging out someone's eyes, hitting them in the windpipe, protecting yourself from strangulation, kicking out someone's knee, stomping on someone's instep – they are moves that work on both sexes. We will work on some of these moves between the two of us and, once you become more comfortable with them, I will ask Tank to come in and act as the dummy while I help you with technique. I figure that, if you are used to working with Tank, you won't be intimidated by anyone, no matter the size.
Then, shucking off his sweatshirt, he started to work with me. By the end of the hour I was sweaty and frustrated and angry. But I was also able to get out of a couple of holds, and Ranger seemed pleased. He threw me a towel and a bottle of water. "Good work", he said. "I was throwing some tough stuff at you, and you were getting the hang of it. I don't think it will be long before you will be working with Tank."
Great. I can't wait.
We went up to Ranger's apartment so that I could have a shower. I was damp and my body was sore from struggling so much. After having the shower I walked out to the bedroom to change, dressed only in a towel and underwear. "Come here", Ranger said. "I have some body lotion here, and I will rub your muscles down so that you don't stiffen up. You aren't used to that kind of exercise." He pushed back the covers off the bed. I looked at him, using my "I don't trust you" look. "I promise I won't do anything you don't want me to. Trust me, okay? I just want to make you feel better."
I shrugged and lay down on the bed. I did trust him, and besides, my muscles were pretty sore despite the hot shower that I had taken. "Thanks", I said.
Ranger removed the towel once I was lying down, throwing the damp towel on the floor. He squirted some lotion on my back and started to rub it in, paying particular attention to the small of my back. "Are you still sore there?" he asked.
"No, just twinges. Not too bad." He moved onto my upper back, neck, shoulders and arms. I was almost asleep by the time he had moved on to my legs and feet. He covered me with the quilt.
"I'll leave you to sleep. I'm going to have a long, cold, shower now", he said in a strangled whisper. I smiled drowsily and fell asleep.
An hour later Ranger came and kissed me awake for dinner. "Ella has made tuna steaks for dinner. It smells good. Are you ready to get up to eat, or do you want to sleep through to morning?" he asked.
"Nope. I'll get up, thanks. Dinner sounds good. I'm sorry I fell asleep on you."
"That's okay. That was what I was aiming for – to get your muscles to relax. You were doing really well today." He set the table and put out the dinner plates while I poured water.
"Well, I still couldn't get out of the holds, so I wasn't doing well enough."
"But I could definitely see an improvement by the end of the hour. It was getting harder to hang on to you. If we do an hour of that every day you are here, you will be much more able to protect yourself if you need to."
"If we do the aprés work out every day, too, I will have melted into a pile of goo." I smiled. "Thanks for that, by the way. My body feels better."
"I could make your body feel even better." He smiled. "Just give me a sign and I'll be ready." He paused and turned serious. "Have you listened to your messages recently?"
"Why don't you check while I clean up from dinner?" We finished eating and then I went to get my phone. After Ranger stacked the dishwasher and I had fed Rex and changed his water, Ranger and I sat on the couch and played back my messages. There was one since lunchtime. It was "Steph-an-nie. I am getting really angry with you. I will come and get you soon. When I see you I will kill all your friends, then fuck you good. And then I will kill you, too. Be ready." I turned off my phone and, hand shaking, put the phone on the coffee table.
"I will get a copy of the call to Morelli in a few minutes. Are you okay?" Ranger asked.
Ranger's lips twitched into a small smile. He pulled me onto his lap and held me close to his chest. I listened to his heartbeat, slow and steady, while he spoke. "He is getting more focused in his messages. But it still feels a bit like he is making his plan up as he goes along, Babe. Having said that, he has concentrated on wanting to kill everyone in the last few messages. The anger underlying that is the cornerstone of the harassment. He is now adding rape to his list of threats. Rape is about anger and power. It will take a few more messages to determine if the rape is a passing comment or whether it has become part of his ultimate plan." He cupped my jaw in his hand and gave me a slow and tender kiss. "We will not give him the chance to get to you, okay, Babe? And tomorrow we will work on getting out of holds when you are lying on the ground. Now, I think we should call Morelli and let him know about this newest threat." He gave me another quick kiss and helped me off his lap, then took my phone over to his computer. He hooked my phone up to the computer and downloaded the message onto the computer. He then emailed the message to Morelli. That done, he phoned Morelli and warned him that the message was coming in. They arranged that Morelli would call back once he had the chance to listen to it.
A few minutes later Morelli called. Ranger put it on speakerphone.
"That bastard!" Morelli exclaimed in way of greeting. "Are you okay, Cupcake?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just that Brodie is so angry. I can't get past how angry he is", I said.
"That's why he was in trouble in the first place, Babe. He has anger management issues. We have known that from the beginning. That's not the problem. The problem is now he seems to have focused his anger on you."
"And on anyone who stands in his way. Don't forget he threatened you again", I said.
"No, what he wants is to kill you", Morelli said. "He has mentioned that several times. Adding in the power play and anger issues associated with rape, and it seems like he is starting to get unhinged. He will make a mistake soon and we will be there to capture him. I think, Cupcake, we need to stay the course. I am sure Ranger has already told you that. This last message doesn't change anything. Other than me opening another bottle of Rolaids."
"How is your Rolaids' consumption going?" I asked.
"You should have bought stock in the company. You could have been rich", Morelli answered. I smiled. Ranger took the phone off speaker and handed the phone to me. He turned on the ball game quietly in the background.
"I wish I was there with you right now", Morelli said. "Bob misses you. Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, I'm okay. I'm just tired of all this."
"What did you do today?"
"I researched a company and some of their employees for the first part of the afternoon, and then Ranger had me in training for the remainder of the afternoon. We practiced in the shooting range for an hour, and then I was learning how to beat Ranger up for an hour. He said we will do it again tomorrow. But tomorrow I will learn how to get out of holds when I am lying on the ground."
"I appreciate Ranger taking care of you like this."
"Yeah, well, you had better behave the next time we are together or I'll know how to hurt you", I said with a smile.
I heard an answering chuckle. Bob started to bark in the background. "I think Bob sees a cat or something out the back window. I should go. I love you. Have a good sleep. And whatever you do, be careful."
"You, too." I said before I hung up. I couldn't do it. I still had trouble saying the "L" word. I can acknowledge it in my head, but saying it out loud, especially with an audience, somehow seems wrong. It wasn't something I ever heard when I was growing up. It was more just accepted. We never had any need to say it. We never questioned it. So to say it now was just awkward. My reticence wasn't really fair to Morelli. He doesn't seem to have much of a problem saying it. But I do.
I phoned my parents and grandmother. I had not talked to them for a few days, and felt that I should check in with them. My grandmother answered the phone, and put it on speaker. I could hear the ball game in the background. My dad was watching the same game that Ranger had on the TV.
"Have there been any other acts of vandalism?" I asked.
"No. But Edna at the beauty salon saw the graffiti on our house, and she thought it looked like the graffiti on the old railway underpass out near Stark Street", my grandmother said.
"Have you seen anybody who looked suspicious?"
"No. What are you involved in? Are you in danger? I haven't talked to you for days. I thought you were dead", my mom shouted into the phone. She still hadn't figured out how the speakerphone works.
"No, I'm not in danger. I am just busy with trying to find a skip and I am working for Ranger as well."
"So does that mean you can come for dinner tomorrow?" my mom asked.
"No, not tomorrow. I am finding it difficult getting my head above work right now."
"You should take a break. Come for dinner tomorrow. I'll make pineapple upside-down cake."
"Not tomorrow. Morelli and I will come in a few days, okay? I will call you when we are free." I said goodbye and hung up the phone.
Ranger watched the ball game as I sat, leaning against the opposite end of the couch, with my feet in his lap. He massaged my feet, touching my feet with just the right amount of pressure. Not too hard and not too tickly. I tried to read more of my novel before we went to bed, but I wasn't very successful. I just kept thinking about the last phone message, and kept reading the same page over and over again.
By the time we got to bed I was still feeling unsettled and upset. I was trying to hide it, but I was jittery and felt like I was on the edge. I lay in bed stiff as a board, trying to be quiet and to not disturb Ranger, but in actuality I was frantic as I thought about all the people who could be hurt because of me. I curled into a fetal position and wrapped my arms around my middle, trying to control the panic but starting to hyperventilate and take jerky breaths anyway. Ranger reached over and pulled me into him and cuddled me spoon-like. His arm wrapped around my middle and snaked up under my pyjama top to rest with my breast in his hand. "Breathe", he said. "That's all you have to do right now. Just breathe", he whispered as he kissed the top of my head. Slowly, my breathing became more rhythmic, my heartbeat steadied and my muscles relaxed. I finally fell asleep snuggled into Ranger.