TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
By the time I got home the numbness was starting to wear off. I carted my things back into my apartment, saying hi to Mrs. Bestler in the elevator, struggling to be friendly to her.
There was a note in Morelli's handwriting on the counter where Rex's cage normally sits. It said "I'm sorry". I put it aside and went to the bedroom to unpack my things. I listened to my messages on my home phone. There was one message. It was left several days ago. I deleted it before I listened to it. I didn't need to hear any messages from Brodie.
I looked in my purse for my cell phone. I still had the cell phone from Ranger and I put it aside to give back to him the next time I saw him. I took out my own cell phone and checked to see if I had any messages. I had two. Both were from Brodie. The first said "I am coming for you today. Get ready." It was left first thing in the morning, before all the insanity happened. I had just missed the second call by a few minutes. The message said "I got out on bail. I am coming for you. You are going to die now, bitch." I had to put the phone down on the counter my hand was shaking so hard. I went to the windows and, staying out of the way of the glass, closed the curtains. I then went to my cookie jar to take out my gun, but found that Ranger had got there before me. In my cookie jar was the baby Glock I had been using at Rangeman in addition to my own gun. There was also a box of bullets for the Glock, and a note that said "Use it as long as you need it." I took out the Glock and checked that it was loaded.
Needing happy food, I went to the freezer and took out a half dozen banana-chocolate chip muffins and defrosted them in the microwave. I opened the fridge and took out a diet soft drink, and went and sat on the couch, gun in my lap and the muffin plate on the couch cushion beside me. I ate unthinkingly while my mind struggled to cope with the shock. The telephone rang, and I let the answering machine take it. I could hear the message as Morelli told me that Brodie was out on bail, that he had used a different bondsman, and that he wanted me to be careful. I was frozen. I heard my cell phone ring, followed shortly afterward by Ranger's cell phone. I put the empty muffin plate on the coffee table, brought my knees up to my chin so that I was sitting in a ball facing the door and, loosely holding it, rested my gun on top of my knees. Staring at the door, I sat and waited for Brodie.
I didn't have long to wait. About five minutes later there was a sound at my door. The lock was thrown and the full force of Brodie's weight was thrown against the door to get the security chain to pop. When that didn't work, Brodie put his gun next to the chain and shot it open. He entered the apartment to see me facing him, Glock in hand. "I am going to kill you, bitch" he said. "You shot me. And now you will die." He sighted his gun on me.
I shot him first. I shot him in the chest, right at his heart. Brodie fell on the ground and died in front of me. I was still sitting in a ball on the couch, frozen, staring at Brodie with my gun in my hand, when Ranger got there a couple of minutes later.
Ranger ran in, gun drawn, checked Brodie and pronounced him dead. He came over and took the gun away from me, putting it on the coffee table beside my muffin plate. He picked me up and pulled me onto his lap, taking out his phone as he did so and calling in the shots to Morelli. Then he wrapped his arms around me and held me tightly as the shudders started to rip through my body.
Morelli was busy doing his cop thing. Ranger didn't let me out of his sight, even waiting outside the bathroom door as I threw up all the muffins I had eaten. I kept telling him I was okay, but since I couldn't look him in the eyes or stop shaking I don't think he believed me. He sat beside me, his arm around me, as Morelli led me through the questions. Woodenly, I answered him. Finally, it was over. Morelli got up to leave, saying that he had to finish up at the precinct and would be back in a couple of hours. "She won't be here", Ranger said. "I'm bringing her back to my place for a couple of days." Morelli's face turned red as he started to argue. "She shouldn't be alone right now", Ranger broke into his complaints, "and you aren't helping matters."
Morelli took one look at me, still glassy-eyed, in shock and in a dazed silence, and reluctantly nodded his head. "Take care of her", he said. "I'll catch up with her in a few days." He followed the last of the police officers out of the apartment. When silence descended upon the apartment once again, Ranger got up and pulled me off the couch. "Can you pack a bag or do you want me to do it, Babe?" I just stared at him. He pulled me into the bedroom and threw a couple of days' worth of clothing into a bag, then handed it to me. I hadn't yet unpacked my shower bag, so he grabbed that as well and shoved it in the bag with the clothes. He went into the kitchen and picked up Rex's cage, turned off the lights, and led me out the door. He took my keys from my hand and locked the door behind us, then led me out of the building to his car.
"I killed him", I said with a sob, finally breaking my silence. Ranger and I were sitting on the couch after picking at one of Ella's delicious dinners. I was wearing Ranger's sweats again, and was cuddled into Ranger's side, Ranger's arm around me. The shudders started again and great hiccupping sobs erupted. Ranger pulled me into his lap, rubbing my back. "Let it out, Babe", he said soothingly.
"That's the second time I have killed someone. I still have nightmares about the first time. Am I going to have nightmares about this one too?" I asked.
"I can't answer that, Babe. But you can be here for as long as you want and I will catch you if you start to fall. The whole Rangeman team is behind you. And I know Morelli wants to be there for you as well. You have people who care about you and we will help you through this." He paused, then said "you know he would have killed you, don't you? It's not your fault he is dead. It's just that you were faster with your gun than him."
"It seems like such a waste. He was once a baby, looked after with love by his parents. He grew up, went to school, had girlfriends, friends, family, a job. And now he's dead. And it's all my fault."
"It is not your fault. You didn't threaten his family and friends, shoot at him, leave threatening messages, make him go into hiding. That was all him, doing that to you. You didn't go to his apartment with a gun, threatening him. But he did that to you. You were just protecting yourself. This is not your fault."
"Maybe if I hadn't had a gun, I could have talked to him."
"No. If you hadn't had a gun you would be dead. You wouldn't be talking to anyone."
"But I didn't even try to talk to him. I just shot him."
"You tried to talk to him earlier in the day. I heard you in my earbud. I caught it on the security camera. You tried whatever you could to neutralize the situation without hurting him. Do you want to see the tape?"
"Maybe tomorrow. I can't really remember what happened."
"Okay, tomorrow. I think it would be a really good idea for you to see it. And when you watch it, be objective. Think about what you would say to me, say, if I was in your shoes."
"But you wouldn't be in my shoes. It wouldn't bother you like this."
"Do you think not? Just because I have killed more people doesn't mean that it doesn't bother me. It always bothers me, and I'm glad it does. It means I am human, that I haven't lost my sense of compassion, of human decency. And this is bothering you so much because you are the most compassionate person I have ever met. You will be in for a rough road and that's okay. You'll get through this. Just remember you have a lot of people who love you and care about you, and that you aren't alone."
I lay in Ranger's arms, listening to his heartbeat, slow and steady, and let the rhythm relax me. Gradually the tears stopped, and I fell asleep.
I woke up in Ranger's bed, his arms wrapped around me and his legs intertwined with mine. I vaguely remembered him carrying me to bed the night before, and him taking my socks and pants off. I started to shift away from him, a bit panicked with the remaining edges of a disturbing dream, and he pulled me back into his arms. "Shh", he said. "You're okay. You're safe", and he kissed the top of my head and rubbed my back until I fell back to sleep.
"So, what are you going to do about Morelli?" Ranger asked the next morning over breakfast. Ella had made us hot oatmeal with cinnamon, apples and raisins, and I was spooning up the last of the oatmeal from my bowl.
"I don't know. The argument is one we have had lots of times, although that was the first time we have had witnesses to it. We have always gotten back together again before, but yelling at me in front of witnesses when I really needed support? That was taking our problems a step further than we have ever gone before. I am not sure I can forgive him this time."
"What about his marriage proposal?"
"He always proposes whenever he wants me to quit my job. But he doesn't want to marry me any more than I want to marry him. He loves me, but I can't be the person he wants me to be. I'm not the stay-at-home type. I clean because I have to, most of my laundry is done by my mom, and my idea of cooking is to phone Pino's for a pizza. He doesn't want a wife who is endangered at times. I can understand that. I don't want a husband who works all the time, a husband who can't take time off to go on trips and to be with me. With Morelli, his job always comes first. It's what makes him a good cop and I admire him for that. However, I think it would make him a lousy husband. But right now? He is fun. I'm not sure where it is going, if either of us are even willing to change. I know I want something more, eventually. I have had too much of a traditional upbringing to not. I'm just not sure I want more with him."
"I can understand that", he said, and got up from the table and put his dirty dishes in the dishwasher. With a thoughtful look he finished up in the bathroom before coming over to give me a kiss to the top of my head. "Whenever you are ready, come on down to my office and we will look at the security tape."
After Ranger left the apartment I went and had a long, hot shower, easing out some of the stiffness left behind by the fight with Brodie. I dressed in a Rangeman uniform and one of Ranger's hoodies, and I remembered to put on my gun before I left the apartment. I walked down to Ranger's office and knocked on his open door. Tank was in Ranger's office, sitting in front of his desk. Ranger waved me in. "How are you doing?" Tank asked, worried.
"I'm getting better, thanks", I said. "I am starting to get my feet back on the ground."
"Good. Give yourself time", he said. "It is always a bit of a shock when you kill someone. You just have to remember that it wasn't your fault. That it was self-defence. When you accept that, it is much easier to deal with."
He got out of the chair and left me alone with Ranger, patting my shoulder awkwardly as he walked by.
"Come here", Ranger said. He pulled me onto his lap and hit a few buttons on the computer. He ran the security footage. You could clearly see Brodie shooting Ralph, then me talking to Brodie. You could see him threatening me with a gun, and me not doing anything other than talking. Then, you could see he was going to shoot Ralph again and I shot Brodie. You could see on the tape that Brodie came after me physically and the fight that ensued. And you could see me subduing Brodie. "You could have physically harmed him or killed him at any time. You chose not to. You value human life. Just because he came back at you does not mean anything different. You are still a good person."
My eyes filled with tears. "Thank you", I whispered. I pushed the tears back and stood up. "I've got work I want to get done today. I still have several files for Sales to research".
"You have a new one from me, as well", Ranger said. "Just remember to take it easy on yourself today."
I walked through the control room to get back to the research desk. As I walked past Hal he looked up from the monitors and asked me how I was doing. I gave the same answer I gave Tank. Hal got up and came over to me and gave me a hug. "Just remember it was self-defence", he said. "I saw the security footage. You were amazing." Eduardo nodded his head in agreement.
I walked back to the research desk, pulling out my phone to cue up my playlist. I noticed that I had three messages. The first one was from my mother. "I heard from Ellen Gralenski that you shot a man in your apartment. Why did you have a strange man in your apartment? And why did you have to shoot him? Anna Torres' daughter doesn't shoot strange men in her apartment, so why do you? What is wrong with me that I would have a daughter going around shooting people? And then I tried calling you, and you weren't home. I had to call Joe. I thought you were dead." The second message was from Vinnie. "I heard you killed that mother fucker. I didn't bond him out again after you caught him the first time. Make sure you tell Ranger that. Well, now that you caught Brodie, when are you coming back to work? We have a whole pile of skips here for you to chase. Should I give them to Joyce? Let me know as soon as possible. I'm losing money here. I'm bleeding out. I gave you a job when you most needed it and I need you to help me now. Give me a call." The third message was from Morelli. "I'm sorry, Cupcake. I said some things I shouldn't have said, things I didn't mean. I don't want us to be over. And I'm worried about you. Give me a call when you get this message, okay? I love you."
I picked up the phone and dialled Morelli's number. I waited through three rings before Morelli picked up. "Hi", I said.
Two weeks later, I was back in Ranger's apartment having dinner with him. I handed him a small box, wrapped in shiny birthday paper and with a large red bow on top.
"What's this?" he asked.
"I couldn't get you a present for your birthday, so this is a belated birthday present", I explained.
Ranger held the box like it was the most precious thing in the world. "You didn't have to get me anything. You just being here was a birthday gift in itself", he said.
"I know I didn't have to get you anything. But I wanted to. It's not anything big."
He carefully removed the bow and ripped off the paper. He opened the box and, looking down, started to smile. Inside the box was the bullet casing from my first bulls-eye, made into a key chain. I climbed into his lap and whispered "happy birthday" before I gave him a kiss that rocked his world.
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