TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
The next day I woke up with clean laundry on my dresser and the sounds of my father and grandmother fighting for the right to use the bathroom first. My mother was already in the kitchen, and the smells of fresh coffee and frying bacon wafted up the stairs. I was home, and some things never change.
"I'm an old lady. I don't have good bladder control any more", cried my grandmother. "I should get to use the bathroom first."
"I have to get my cab over to pick up my first fare. Timmy relies on me to get him to the station in time for the train. I need to get going." My father is retired from the post office. For sanity's sake, when he retired he had the choice of either killing my grandmother or taking another job. He decided to become a cab driver. He has a few fares he drives in the morning and after work, and he spends the majority of the time in between at his social club playing cards. It is an arrangement that keeps everyone somewhat stress-free, with the only arguments happening in the fight for the bathroom in the morning. Rather than get up five minutes earlier, my father and grandmother choose to duke it out as part of their morning routine. The yelling meant there was no danger of sleeping in at my parents' house. I got out of bed and stumbled down to the kitchen, bleary-eyed, and poured myself a cup of coffee. I sat down at the table. "One egg or two?" my mother asked. I asked for one egg and winced as I heard the slamming of the bathroom door and my dad roaring out loud in frustration. Apparently my grandmother had been successful in sneaking past my father and making it into the bathroom first. There was banging on the bathroom door, and yelling in Italian. I don't know many Italian words, but I was pretty good on recognizing the swear words. These were definitely swear words.
A few minutes later my grandmother came down the stairs. "I don't know why you had to marry someone who is so unreasonable", she complained to my mom. "I just had to go to the bathroom. And brush my teeth. And my hair. And wash my face. Not much. It's not like I went to have a shower. Is that so unreasonable to let an old lady go first?"
My dad raced out downstairs. "I have no time for breakfast this morning", he said. "I have to get to Timmy's house or he'll miss the train." He grabbed a travel mug of coffee that my mom had prepared and ran out of the house. He went to get in the car and froze, looking back at the house, halfway in the car and halfway out, mouth hanging open. "Stephanie!" he bellowed, and pointed at the house. He looked at his watch and shook his head. "Take care of this", he said and got the rest of the way in the car and drove away.
Still in my pyjamas and with my hair uncombed, I walked out of the house down to the sidewalk and looked back towards the front porch. The house had been graffitied. The word "cunt" had been spray painted across the front of the house, and "bitch" was spray painted across the front door.
I went inside the house and finished my coffee and ate my breakfast. I had a shower and got ready for the day, dressing in a pair of clean jeans, a t-shirt and a hoody. I did all this in a simmering anger. It is one thing to leave me creepy voicemails and even to vandalize my apartment, but it is another thing when that vandalism extends to my parents' house. My parents' house is supposed to be the safe place, the place where nothing happens. I was angry, very angry, that this vandal had found me. And I was even angrier that he had infringed upon my feeling of security.
Once I was ready for the day, I called the police and went to wait for them on the front stoop. Morelli was the first to arrive. He parked behind my car and surveyed the front of the house for a few minutes, hands on hips and with a serious, show-no-feeling cop face. When he was finished, he came over to me and gave me a quick kiss. "Are you okay, Cupcake?" he asked.
"Yeah. I was asleep when it happened. I'm just mad. My parents' house should be sacred, you know? I feel guilty. I brought this on them. I feel like it is my fault."
"This is only your fault if you were the person who did the painting. Do you have any sense of who might have done this? Can you at least give me a list of potential suspects?"
"I think it would be easier to tell you who wouldn't be on the list than who would. I'm not searching for any vandals right now, though, so I don't have any obvious suggestions", I said.
Two uniforms arrived in their car and started taking pictures to attach to their incident report. They came over to talk to Morelli and me. Morelli repeated everything I had told him. When the report was prepared and I signed it, my mom came out of the house and offered coffee to Morelli and the other officers. The uniforms politely turned down the invitation, but Morelli decided to come in for a few minutes to talk to my mother and grandmother. I poured Morelli a coffee and doctored it with cream and sugar while he questioned them.
"This obviously happened last night", he began. "Did either of you hear a noise at all? Did you wake up for no reason?"
"I'm old", my grandmother said. "I always wake up. But I don't remember hearing anything in particular." My mother also could not help identify a time that it happened. Morelli asked whether either my grandmother or mother could identify anyone unusual hanging around the house or in the neighbourhood. "Nope. And I look out the front door a lot", said my grandmother. They both promised to keep their eyes open and call the police if they saw anything suspicious.
I walked Morelli to his car. "So, do you think it is safe for me to go back to my apartment?" I asked. "Although vandalism and harassment are not comfortable, they also won't hurt me. I can put up with harassment. I don't really care what happens to me as long as it doesn't spill over onto my family. And I don't want to take the chance that this could happen again – or even that something worse could happen – here."
Morelli sighed. "It seems like you aren't really safe anywhere. I wish my parents weren't with me, so that you could come to my place." He paused. "I guess your apartment is as good a place to live as anywhere. Be aware, though. Stay safe. We don't know if this person will escalate from vandalism and harassment." He gave me a kiss that made me wish his parents weren't staying with him too, then turned around and went back to work.
I called the cleaners to come in to remove the graffiti, and packed Rex and my clean laundry in the car. Just as I was getting into my car Ranger's 911 Porsche Turbo slid in behind me. He got out of the car, came over, and gave me a friendly kiss. He looked at my parents' house. "Are your parents redecorating, Babe?" he asked.
"They are now", I replied. "You're back – how was Canada?"
"Accommodating. The skip is now back where he is supposed to be. What's going on here?" he said, looking at the graffiti.
I told Ranger about the calls. And I told Ranger about my spray painted bedroom window. And I told him how frustrated I was by the fact that the vandal followed me to my parents' house and infringed upon my safe zone.
"You still have my place as a safe zone, Babe. You can always come stay with me." That was true. But while I would be safe from vandalism and harassment, I would be in danger in a completely different way. And as nice as it would be, it wasn't worth my relationship with Morelli to stay with Ranger.
Ranger turned to my new car. "Nice. Hal installed the tracker the other night, so you are all set. Good choice on the colour. Try not to blow this one up, okay?" His eyes crinkled slightly in a small smile. I don't know why everyone seems to think they need to warn me not to blow up my car. I have only exploded eight or nine of them. The rest of my cars have all been stolen, vandalized or in car accidents. And it's not like I planned on any of those explosions happening.
"Are you going back to your place now?" Ranger asked.
"I was thinking of taking Rex home before I go in to work. I promised Lula that we would go to the shore today to look for Paulo Rosolli."
"I'll follow you to check out your apartment. We can see if there are any more calls on your answering machine."
Ranger followed me back and carried Rex's cage up to my apartment. I carried my clean laundry.
The door to my apartment was slightly ajar. Ranger put Rex's cage on the hall floor, motioned me to the side of the door, withdrew his gun from his holster, and entered the apartment. He checked the entire apartment, including closets, behind the shower curtain, and under the bed. "Dust bunnies are your only unwanted guests", he said. "And some pictures on the dining room table." He went outside and picked up Rex, putting his cage on the kitchen counter. Then he came over to look at the photos with me. There were six photos, all blown up onto letter size paper. Three were of me sleeping in my apartment. And three were of me sleeping at my parents' house. The ones from the apartment were taken from the fire escape. The ones from my parents' house must have been taken from the tree outside the window in the backyard.
I had so many emotions running through me. I was creeped out knowing someone had watched me while I slept. And I was angry, again, that this person was affecting more than just me. Coming to my parents' house meant the harassment was now spilling over onto their lives. And I try, no matter how crazy my life is, to make sure it doesn't affect my family. And, finally, I was glad I wasn't drooling or doing something equally as embarrassing in the photos.
I listened to my messages. There were two messages. One hang-up, one "Steph-an-nie", and a second one, a longer one from the Steph-an-nie person that said "Did you like my surprise? Do you like me watching you? Now you know what it feels like, you fucking cunt, to have someone after you. Leave me alone."
"I think it's time to call Morelli", Ranger said. "It's like this person has become a combination of a harasser and a stalker. He is progressing, becoming more dangerous. His language, his tone, show that he is getting angry. And I don't have a good feel as to what this person wants other than for you to leave him alone. The pictures show a sexual bent to things, while the graffiti has more of an angry bent. I would be happier if you stayed with me until you capture this person. Especially since you can't stay with Morelli right now."
I called Morelli, and told him about this newest threat. He said that he would be there within the half hour. I told him Ranger and I would wait for him. He was there in ten minutes.
"I have a full work load just keeping up with you!" Morelli said when he saw me. He said "hi" to Ranger and came over to me to give me a quick kiss. Ranger told him about the door being open when we got in, and showed Morelli the pictures. Morelli turned red and stared at his shoe as he fought to get himself under control. Once his temper had subsided, we played the messages on the answering machine. Morelli turned red again, and went to look out the living room window for a few minutes.
"You can come stay at my place", Morelli said. "You can sleep on the couch. I can sleep on the floor. And Grandma Bella would be safer than this joker."
"No way", I responded. In my mind, Grandma Bella was far scarier than the stalker.
"You could stay with your parents again", Morelli suggested.
"No", I answered. "I'm not bringing this on my parents again. They need to be safe."
"Or you could stay at my place", said Ranger. "You'd be safe there." Ranger took one look at Morelli's face and said "Just throwing it out there. It may be the best solution if she won't go to your place or back to her parents' home."
"No", I said. "I will stay here. I won't bring this filth into my parents' home again. And I will not bring it into either of your homes. The person is threatening, but I can take the phone off the hook again. And I will close my curtains at night. And I will triple check the locks on my door before I go to sleep. I should be okay. All this person really has done is phone me, take pictures of me and spray paint ugly words about me. Compared to many threats I have had in the past, this person seems kind of tame. I don't really feel like I am in danger. I just am a bit creeped out by it all. And I'm angry."
Neither man was happy with my decision, but I felt better having made it. I gave the photos to Morelli to add to my growing file, fed Rex a baby carrot, and closed and locked the door behind me as we all went down to the parking lot.