TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
At three o'clock Ranger came to pick me up, another box of bullets in his hand. I brought my phone with me. When Ranger looked questioningly at me, I explained that I had received another message but that I had yet to listen to it. Ranger and I headed back to his office.
"Cue it up", he said. He waited while I accessed my voicemail and put the phone on speaker. There were two messages. The first was from a charity asking for donations.
The second was from Brodie. "Steph-an-nie," he said, "I wish I could talk to you. I'd tell you exactly what I will do to you before I kill you. You think you have all the power now by hiding out from me. You keep on thinking that, because when I fuck you and kill all your friends in front of you, you will know who really has all the power."
I took this message much better than I had the previous messages. True, he sounded just as angry and he still spoke of killing my friends. But I was starting to become immune to his threats. They were the same old thing, over and over. I was more angry than upset over this one. I had had enough and I refused to be a victim any longer.
Ranger downloaded the message into his computer and emailed the sound file to Morelli with the message that we wouldn't be available to talk about it as we were going into training.
Ranger picked up the box of bullets again, and brought a file off the top of his desk. We headed down to the shooting range. "How are you feeling after that message?" Ranger asked me.
"Angry. Ready to shoot something."
Ranger took out a paper from the file and put it on the head portion of the target we were using. It was a picture of Brodie's head. "This is Brodie", he said. "We will not work on drawing your gun or loading it today. Today we will just shoot Brodie. I want you to pretend he has pulled a gun on you and is threatening to shoot you. And I want you to shoot him first. You need to shoot him in the chest. Let's see you do it."
I was so angry. I took five shots, hitting him in the chest twice and once in the arm.
"Good. Again", Ranger said.
By the time our hour was up I was able to get two-thirds of my shots in his chest. Ranger was happy with my progress, but I was still too angry to be pleased.
We went up to the gym. Knowing I would get hot, I took off my gun and holster, and stripped down to my sports bra and my yoga pants. Ranger grabbed a remote and pressed a button to scramble the security feed. "The guys in the control room don't need to see you work out, Babe", he said in way of explanation. "They wouldn't get any work done. The building could burn down and they wouldn't notice. They would be too busy watching you."
Ranger slipped off his sweatshirt and followed me onto the mats. He went over some of the holds and releases from the previous day, followed by some new moves where he held me on the ground. These "rape scene" holds got me especially angry, but also especially scared when I realized I was overpowered. Patiently, Ranger showed me how to get out of each hold. "Remember, these are just tools to have in your back pocket", he said. "They are so you know you have options other than talking to someone or kicking them in the nuts. If you are in a threatening situation I expect you to use all the tools you can." Only when I was successfully able to get out of each one would he let me finish fighting for the day.
It was dinnertime by the time we finished training. Ella had left us a creole chicken, sausage and rice casserole in the oven, with fresh bread in the warming drawer and a tossed green salad in the fridge. I took a quick hot shower before dinner, climbing into my pyjamas and deciding to let my hair air dry.
"How did you feel about training today?" Ranger asked as we ate dinner.
"Better. I'm not so angry anymore."
"Good. But don't lose all that anger. Anger can be good as long as it is channelled properly. It can power you up and make you sharper, make it easier to make decisions. If nothing else, it stops you from feeling like a victim. And that's a good thing." He took a minute to cut a piece of chicken, then continued. "I phoned Morelli while you were in the shower. We talked about the last message. He agrees with me that, as the airline supervisor said, he seems to be concentrating his anger on women. Hence his growing focus on rape. You just happen to be the symbolic woman he has chosen to punish."
"Lucky in some ways. You have the resources to fight back. If it was just anybody he had focussed on, that woman would likely be dead now. But you have a whole team of professionals who will make sure that doesn't happen to you." I yawned. "Are you tired?" he asked.
"Yeah. I actually can't believe how tired I am. It is still a couple of hours until bedtime."
"I'm not surprised. You haven't been sleeping well and you've been working hard in training. Why don't you go phone Morelli while I clean up dinner? After you're off the phone I'll give you a massage again, and you can go right to sleep for the night from there."
After dinner I fed Rex some hamster crunchies and a piece of celery from the salad. I changed his water and then went into the office to sit on the couch and phone Morelli.
"I hear that you're having trouble sleeping. You're having nightmares?" Morelli said.
"Ranger has a big mouth. I'm fine."
Morelli sounded a bit peeved. "Downplay what you are feeling with your family, Cupcake, even downplay it with the bonds office staff and your other friends. But never be afraid to tell me how you truly feel. I want to know."
"You can't do anything about it. Nobody can, so what's the point in getting you upset?"
"I can listen. I want to know when you are scared and when you are upset and when you are angry, just as much as I want to know when you are happy. It's part of the boyfriend code", he said. I could hear his smile over the phone.
"Well, okay. I've been really upset, worried that everyone would die. But today I moved from terror to anger. Ranger put Brodie's picture up on a target in the shooting range, and by the end of the practice I had two-thirds of my shots in his chest. Ranger was pleased, but I was still really angry. Ranger took the brunt of that anger at the gym. He taught me how to get out of some holds more like how I would be held if I was being raped. We worked out for almost two hours. I am sore all over and tired."
"Take ibuprofen before you go to bed or you will seize up in the morning. How do you feel emotionally now?"
"Not nearly so angry. I'm too tired to be angry." I yawned. "But I don't feel quite like a victim, either. A little bit, maybe? But mostly just tired and spent. Flat. Like I have used up my quota of emotions for a while. How about you? How was your day?"
"Frustrating. I searched for Brodie today. I had uniforms helping me go door to door to question everybody in the area around the Rangeman office. There were some people who were either not answering their door or who weren't home. Of the people who answered their door, no one had seen Brodie. So either he's not there or someone is lying. I suspect it's that someone is lying. I am running all of the residents I spoke with against any of our known facts about Brodie – where he works, where he grew up, where he went to school, etcetera – to see if there are any commonalities. So far I haven't found anything, but it will take a while. I haven't given up looking yet."
"Good luck with that."
"Thanks. You could say I am especially motivated to catch this guy. I miss you. Bob misses you, too."
"Is he glad to have his couch back?"
"Oh, yeah. And I'm glad to have my bed back. But it's lonely without you. Book some time at my place when you come out of protection, okay? Maybe I can take a couple of days off and we can spend them together. We'll see. I can't promise anything, but I'll try."
We talked for a couple of minutes more before I told Morelli that I was going to bed. I stiffly got up to put the phone back in its charging station. Ranger came into the office just in time to hear me softly groan as I moved.
"Come on," he said, "I think I promised you a rub-down." He grabbed my hand and led me into the bedroom. He helped me strip down to my underwear and went to get the body lotion while I lay down on my stomach on the bed. Ranger started with kneading my neck and shoulders and took his time working his way down my body. I was sound asleep before he got to my legs.