TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
The next day the alarm went off at five thirty again. I don't know how many times we had made love through the night. I lost count at four. I was sleepy as a result, thinking that if I never made love again I would still die happy. Ranger kissed me awake, then began the assault upon my senses all over once more. I had forgotten how much Ranger liked to kiss – everywhere. When the alarm went off again, we were cuddled together, heart rates steadying. With a final kiss Ranger whispered "go to sleep", and got out of bed. He covered me up and went to have a shower. I was asleep again before the water started to run.
An hour later the smell of coffee woke me up. As I sat up, Ranger handed me a cup.
It was a little awkward. I guess mornings-after usually are. The awkwardness was compounded by the fact that I have a boyfriend, as vague an understanding as it may be between Morelli and me. I comforted myself with the fact that it was birthday sex. Birthday sex shouldn't count as cheating, I told myself. But the problem was that it didn't feel like just birthday sex. It felt like something more, and I liked it. I didn't want it to stop, Morelli be damned. My traditional Catholic upbringing said this type of sleeping around was wrong. I was conflicted and I wasn't feeling very good about myself.
"Oh, oh. Morning after?" Ranger questioned.
"Yeah. They suck, don't they? You can have the best night of your life and the next day reality has to kick in."
"That was the best night of your life?"
"Yeah. It was." Ranger smiled. "But reality says that I still have a boyfriend", I stated.
"Nothing changes between us. I will still take anything you give me, and I will still continue trying. I will leave it up to you to set the limits. I'll respect those limits, but I will leave them up to you." And that is the problem. I'm not very good on setting limits.
Ranger and I suited up for the day, me looking at Ranger with a squishy feeling in my stomach. Ranger was focussed, concentrating on the day ahead and on Brodie's takedown.
"You will be working the desk in the control room with Rafael again. Morelli still has his earbud and vest, so he doesn't need to come in to get ready." I sighed in relief. "We are meeting the team in the storeroom in fifteen minutes, so you need to hustle up. In forty-five minutes we should all be in place. If Brodie is on time, we will be there two hours prior to his appointment."
We left the apartment and went down to the storeroom. The rest of the team was already there. Tank took one look at Ranger's face, smiled and handed him a bullet-proof vest. "I think you will need this", he said. I wasn't sure if he meant for the job or for Morelli. Ranger did look particularly relaxed.
Tank handed earbuds to everyone and we all left to go to our positions. I walked down to the parking garage with Tank, Hal and Ranger. Tank and Hal got in fleet cars and staggered leaving the garage. Ranger pulled me into a corner and put his hand under my shirt to rest upon my breast. He gave me a kiss that quickly deepened and started to spiral out of control. "It was the best night of my life, as well", he said. "I just want you to know that." And with a final kiss he got into a fleet car and drove away.
I went back up to the control room to assume my position. At nine o'clock we did a sound test. Everybody was in place and on line. By the time eleven o'clock had arrived everyone was starting to get fidgety.
On the monitor Rafael and I saw a masked man enter Reception. He brought up his gun and shot Ralph in the abdomen. "Steph-an-nie", he yelled. "Your friend here is still alive. I will shoot him in the heart if you don't come down here. I am tired of waiting for you." Rafael started feeding the situation through the earbuds for the rest of the team. I got up and ran to the storeroom. I stripped down to my sports bra and put a Kevlar vest on. I put my shirt back on over top of the vest. I took my gun out and made sure it had bullets in it. Then, walking through the control room to get to the stairs, I told everyone that I was going in. "I will not have anyone die because of me", I said. I ignored it when Morelli and Ranger told me to stand down. "I can't. He's fucking with my family", I said. I was terrified and angry at the same time, but I wasn't letting them deter me from what I had decided to do. I told them they could either stop ordering me around, or I would take my earbud out and they wouldn't be able to hear a thing.
By the time I had finished arguing with Ranger and Morelli I was at the lobby door, and I could hear Brodie calling me. "Come out, come out, wherever you are", he sang. I heard another gun shot and then silence. I could hear Rafael in my ear, explaining to the other members of the team that it appeared that Ralph was shot again, based on what he could see in the security feed.
I opened the door and walked out into the lobby, gun drawn and ready. "You wanted me. Here I am."
Brodie moved his gun from pointing at Ralph to pointing at me.
"What do you want to do with me?" I asked. I glanced over at Ralph. He was passed out cold, but I couldn't see any blood.
"I'll fuck you, and then I'll kill you."
"Because you are like all other females. Always telling me what to do. Telling me where to go. But this time I am taking charge. I will make sure you never tell me what to do again. This is your fault I will kill you. If you just had left me alone, this wouldn't have happened." He started walking towards me.
"Stop and put your gun down", I said.
"No, you put your gun down or I will shoot", he said, pointing his gun at Ralph again. I couldn't take the threat any longer. I shot him, aiming for his shoulder. I hit his gun arm. Close enough, I thought. He let out a cry and dropped his gun, lunging for me instead. He was able to get me in a hold before I could react. I started to fight, biting, gouging, scraping, kicking, hitting. I twisted loose before he could choke me, but was yanked back by my ponytail before I could get to my gun. I off balanced and fell to the floor, Brodie on top of me. Using the new moves Ranger and Tank had shown me the day before, I was able to overpower Brodie. I was sitting on him, holding his arms and legs down as he tried to buck me off, as Ranger came flying in, closely followed by Tank, guns drawn. Ranger kicked away Brodie's and my guns and Tank cuffed Brodie, "accidently" kicking him a few times in the process. Ranger helped me up off the ground. "You're safe", he said thankfully, and checked me all over for damage. He pulled me into a hug and kissed my temple. "Do you need an EMT?"
"No, not me. But Brodie shot Ralph at least twice in the chest and once in the abdomen, and I shot Brodie in the arm." I started to shake in reaction.
Ranger left me to go check on Ralph, who was just coming around. "He's good", Ranger said. "All my staff working Reception are required to wear Kevlar. At most he has a broken rib and a lot of bruising."
"Good job", he said to Ralph. "Rafael has called an EMT for you. They should be here in a few minutes."
I watched Tank take Brodie out to the car and shackle him to the floor bolts. I was shaking and could not get warm. I was still reeling from the shock of it all, and the fact that it was over hadn't yet hit me. Ranger came over to me and took off his hoody, putting it on me, rubbing my arms to try to warm me up.
Morelli came running in and pulled me into a hard hug. "This is why I'm getting an ulcer", he said. "It's you doing stupid things. You just don't think."
"It all ended well though", I said. "And I couldn't let him mess with my family. If I can stop that, then I will do what it takes to stop it. You would do the same thing."
"Rangeman isn't your family. Your real family was in danger because of you. This is you being selfish, always wanting to have it your own way, not willing to take yourself out of danger by getting a new job. And at some point you will have to choose – me and your family, or your job. Because I don't think you can have both. I don't think I can keep living through nightmares like this." Morelli, stomping around in a circle and flapping his arms, was starting to yell. "And don't bring me into this. I am a cop. It is my job to protect people." I started to shake harder.
Ranger looked at Morelli and said "you may want to step away and do that job before you say something you regret."
"I won't regret this", Morelli answered. "This has been a long time in coming."
"So what are you saying then? We're through?" I asked.
"It's your choice, Cupcake. That's my line in the sand. I can't keep living through this. I want to get married and have a normal life. Not live separately and have an insane life."
"Go do your cop thing", I said. "It's what you do best anyway." I started to walk towards the elevator. "You don't need me. The security cameras caught everything on tape. I hurt. I'm cold. I am going up to have a hot shower." The Rangeman staff all stood and watched me as I limped out of the lobby.