Threatening 24

Chapter 11

Chapter Eleven

I woke up crying and thrashing around. It was the same nightmare with an added twist. In this nightmare, I shot Brodie and Morelli yells at me. Then I start working on the line at the personal products packing plant. I am not sure what part of the dream had me in tears – the shooting, being the recipient of Morelli's anger, or working at the personal products plant.

Ranger sat up in bed and, as I woke up, he leaned against the padded headboard and pulled me up into a hug. I listened to his slow and steady heartbeat as I cuddled into him. "Shh. You are all right. You are safe." He kissed the top of my head and repeatedly smoothed my hair away from my face. "Want to tell me about it?"

Soothed by the rhythmic sound of his heart and his slow breathing, I told him all about my dream. He listened until I was finished, and said "I cannot see you working at the personal products plant and being happy. You already are bored working on the research desk, and at least there is some variety there. If you want a more boring job, you can work for me full time. The offer is always open."

"Thanks." I listened for a few minutes more, snuggling in further to the sound of his heart.

"How do you feel?"

"All right. Tired, but my headache has gone and my stomach is steady."

"Good. Let's try sleeping again."

The next morning I woke up at five thirty to the sound of Ranger's watch alarm going off. He quickly turned off the alarm and slowly started to ease himself out of my stranglehold.

"S'okay. I'm awake", I mumbled.

"I was hoping you would sleep longer, Babe. Why don't you go back to sleep? I am going to have a workout, shower, and do some work in my office up here until it is time to wake you for breakfast."

I think I was asleep again almost before he finished talking. I was definitely asleep again before he walked out the apartment door.

Over breakfast, Ranger asked me about my plans for the day. "I have a couple of existing skips to chase and Connie said she has two or three new files for me. So I am busy doing that, but to be honest I do not really want to be out of the Rangeman building today. I am probably being silly, but I just don't feel confident enough to leave. I could get Lula to drop the files off for me, but I don't want to invite her to the building. She would insist upon a tour." Ranger grimaced. Letting Lula loose on his staff would be like setting a cannon off in a flock of birds. It would upset the flock dramatically. He did not really want that to happen as well. "So I guess I will have to suck it up and leave the building. I have a body receipt to pick up from the station and I have to pick up my cheques from Connie. I also have to meet up with Morelli to look at the video feed from yesterday, and I want to sort through all the laundry Ella did for me. Finally, I want to buy a bouquet of flowers for Ella to thank her."

"Why don't I take Hal off patrol today and he can accompany you on your errands? That way you get four hours of support."

"Thanks. I would appreciate that. What does your day look like?"

"I have an open day. I will be working on the blueprints for that new client and I want to look at the expansion plans again. I will be here for lunch if you are interested and am available to train at four o'clock again. Meet me at my desk at three forty-five." He looked at his phone and scrolled through some information. "Hal is working patrol from eleven to three. Does that suit your timing?"

"That's perfect, thanks."

After Ranger left for the day I sent a text to Lula. "I won't be chasing skips today. I spent the yesterday in the hospital. Was drugged and almost kidnapped. Ranger stopped the guy. Need a day to get my feet back on the ground. Will be in later with Hal to drop off body receipts and pick up cheques. Also will pick up files. Will be in sometime between one and three."

I got an immediate response back. "No problemo going out tomorrow instead. I have a new magazine to read. Take care of yourself."

I next wrote a text to Morelli. "Will be in sometime between eleven and three. Hal will be accompanying me. Will pick up outstanding body receipts and will look at video clip then if you are available. Does any time work better for you?" I got an immediate response back from Morelli. "If you come at noon we can ditch Hal and have lunch together."

"I am not ditching Hal. He can either come for lunch with us or we don't have lunch at all. Or, you can come to the Rangeman building this morning and we can sit in a conference room and have a coffee."

"I am actually busy this afternoon. I will come to the Rangeman building this morning. Does ten work for you?"

"Yes. Get the guard to call me down to the lobby at ten and I will sign you in."

I looked at the time. Nine o'clock. I had to get a move on if I would be ready in time to meet Morelli for coffee. I jumped in the shower and had a nice hot shower, put on Ranger's housecoat and felt incredibly turned on by it – it is the thought that he might have last had it against his naked skin – blasted my hair with the dryer, gunked my eyelashes up with mascara and put on a nice raspberry shade of lip gloss. Deciding I looked as good as I was going to get, I hurriedly sorted through all of my clothing that Ella had washed, dried and folded, put a selection on my shelf in Ranger's closet and the rest back into the garbage bags, and selected my confidence-inducing underwear – you know, that pair of underwear that everyone has that is incredibly comfortable but makes you feel sexy at the same time. The pair that doesn't ride up and give you a wedgie. On Lula this underwear is an animal print thong. I know, because we talked about it once while we were doing a stakeout. On me, mine are much more traditional. It is a scrap of dark purple silk and black lace with a matching bra. I took off Ranger's robe and put on the underwear followed by my yoga pants. I matched one of Ranger's t-shirts tied off at the waist with a hair elastic, and one of Ranger's too large hoodies with it. Wearing Ranger's clothing made me feel secure, and after the vandalism, drugging and attempted kidnapping yesterday, I could use all the feelings of security I could get.

I was just finishing getting dressed when I got a text from Morelli. "Just parking now and will be at reception in a few minutes. Will meet you there?"

"See you in a few", I responded. I took the elevator down to the lobby and arrived at the same time as Morelli was signing in. I gave him a hug and kiss on the cheek, quickly stepping away when he tried to make it more amorous. We took the elevator up to the fifth floor and grabbed coffee and a muffin each. I got lemon poppyseed and Morelli got apple streusel. We then went down to the second floor and snagged a conference room.

Keeping it all business, Morelli opened his laptop and accessed the video file. As he cued it up, he watched my face for any sign of recognition. "I wish the video had audio feed as well, but it doesn't. Tell me what is happening as you see it on the screen. If you can, tell me what was said."

"I remember this part", I said as I paused it. "I was filling the washing machines with soap, glad that I had added laundry detergent at the last minute to the list of things for Ranger to purchase at the grocery store. See, you can see there that I ran out. I didn't want to start the machines until Ranger came back with the scent booster." I played the tape again. "So that is when he spiked my drink", I said as I saw his hand pass over my can of coke. In the video, my back was still turned. I came back and sat down, moving my chair a little back from the stranger. "I remember being a little annoyed, wondering why, with all the chairs in the laundromat, he had to sit in the one closest to me. He was in my personal space and I did not like it. That is why I got up and started pacing with my coke. Drinking my coke was a good thing to do with my hands in my discomfort. I think I apologized for the laundromat smelling bad. I told him that someone had vandalized my apartment and that, although I did not know who did it, I had my suspicions. That is when everything started seeming a bit dreamy and I was really tired and relaxed, like I had consumed too much alcohol. I can remember wanting to sleep and knowing I shouldn't, and that is the last thing I remember." I watched further, seeing him talk to me. I saw him open my water for me, and me missing my mouth while trying to drink it. I saw me go to the bathroom at the back and, while I was there, I saw him look in my purse at my driver's licence, my bounty hunter business cards, and my gun. He took one of the business cards and put it in his pocket. I saw him look up and quickly shove it all in my bag as I saw me come lurching out of the bathroom. Then, I saw me go to the folding table, sit down and put my head down. I guess that was when I passed out because I didn't move any more. I saw Lundel shake my shoulder hard and smile when I flopped around, boneless. I saw him haul me up and half carry, half drag me out the door, leaving my purse behind. I could not see anything that happened after leaving the doors of the laundromat.

I felt sick to my stomach. I did not know what he wanted to do with me, but it wasn't to kill me because he could have done so, with my own gun, in the laundromat. I didn't know what his plan was, or even whether he had a plan or was just making it up as he went along. Whatever he wanted, it gave me a squishy feeling in my stomach that made me wish I had not had the muffin to eat.

"I'm sorry I can't help you more."

"That's all right. I wasn't really expecting anything. I wanted to try, though, just in case. Ranger put Hal on you for protection today?"

"Not exactly for protection. I have a number of errand types of things to do today, but I did not feel confident with leaving the Rangeman building. Ranger is taking Hal off patrol today to go around with me for a few hours. He isn't exactly on protection detail but is rather there to make me feel more confident as I get my feet back under me. I just feel a little off-balanced by everything that has happened to me lately."

"That's understandable. It has been a busy month for you."

"Yes, and a traumatic one."

"How are you doing with the Brodie thing?"

"It has been hard. I have been having nightmares and had really thrown me off my game, but I am starting to fall back into a routine."

"I am still having nightmares about it as well. It just makes me so angry to know that, if you weren't a bounty hunter, none of that would have happened."

"Maybe. But I am in the Rangeman job now, and what is happening now is because of the Rangeman job. And it wasn't so long ago I was almost killed by your brother because of my association with you, and in the past I have had jobs at a dry cleaners, Cluck-in-a-bucket, you name it. I have had a variety of jobs and they have all ended with my life in danger. There are bad people everywhere and, although I may be exposed to more than my share as a result of my job, it is not always my job that brings me problems. It may be just because."

"You are a danger magnet, that's for sure, but you are my danger magnet. I miss you. Bob misses you." Bob is Morelli's abnormally large, orange, shaggy-haired beast that masquerades as a dog was originally mine but decided he liked the backyard better at Morelli's house. He is affectionate, exuberant, and as dumb as a post. However, it is unlikely he misses me. Saying that Bob misses me is Morelli's way of saying he wants to have wild gorilla sex.

"Bob is a special dog, that's for sure." Morelli started to smile. "But he will have to go on missing me. I am not coming over in the near future."

"Are you sure you and Ranger haven't hooked up? I saw how upset he was at the hospital yesterday."

"Am I a competition for you? Do you love me more when you think Ranger and I have gotten together?"

"I love you because I love you. I don't love you more when you are around Ranger. That is ridiculous."

"Is it?" I looked at him for a moment, then down at the ground. "Sometimes around you, I feel a bit like a bone two dogs are fighting over."

"You don't feel that way with Ranger?"

"No. He is giving me room to figure things out for myself."

"But he is here with you. He doesn't have to fight for you."

"He wouldn't anyway. That's not his MO." I stood up. "I need to get back to work."

"I love you, Cupcake. Think about us. Think about how good we were together. Then get back to me."

I sat back down. "We were living in la-la land. We were ignoring our real issues, those same issues that made it impossible for us to settle down with each other. Think about how long we went out together, and how we could not commit to each other. Think about how we always had to have separate residences and, when we did try to live together, were unable to last more than four months. And it only lasted that long because my sister and her husband and their kids were living in my apartment and I could not return home. Think about how much you hate my job and always tried to get me to quit, even though I mostly like it.

"I miss your friendship immensely. I like you as a person a whole lot. I have a lot of respect for you both as a person as well as a cop. But I am not sure if it is in our best interest to continue a relationship when you apparently do not have the same respect for me. I need some time to work through this myself."

"I do have the same respect for you."

"Really? That is why you are constantly trying to get me to quit my job with Vinnie? That is why you told my mother I am not a very good bounty hunter? That is why you yelled at me in front of people I work with? All I know is that, when your brother threatened me and put me in danger, I tried to comfort you. But when something I do puts me in danger, you yell at me."

"Yelling is what my family does when they are upset. You cannot take it seriously."

"I understand that. I yelled a lot at Dickie when we broke up." Dickie Orr was my ex-husband, a mistake I made in my early twenties but had thankfully been able to avoid ever since. "However, in my book yelling only happens when you have lost respect for another person. You yelling at me is a sign that you have lost respect for me."

"No, me yelling at you is a sign I care enough about you to get upset about threats upon you or you putting yourself into danger. I cannot help yelling at you when I see you hurt or upset or scared. It is a release of emotion, much like when you cry."

"That is not the way I see things and it upsets me when you yell at me. I will be already upset about the event, and then you add to the upset. It makes it hard to deal with."

"I will try hard to not yell. I cannot promise anything, but I will try hard to not yell."

"It's not just the yelling, although what that yelling represents is a big issue. I think we each need to separately think about where we are going. Are we going anywhere? Do we want to go anywhere? Do we want to get more serious? Do we want to stay friends but separately see other people? Your last argument created so many options for us. What I think it did for me is it has highlighted that we cannot continue the way we were, just coasting with no commitment. Where this leaves me is feeling very confused as to what I do want. Do I want anything more with you? Do I want to see if I can move forward in a relationship with someone else? I'm sorry, but I don't know the answer to those questions yet."

"I really messed things up, didn't I?"

"They were already messed up. You just highlighted some of the problems. Now you have to do some thinking as well. You need to decide where you are going and what you want. I am not the only person here. You need to decide if you are going to give me the respect I deserve, or even whether you can stop yelling long enough to admit to being scared or nervous so that I don't confuse your yelling for anger. Maybe in two or three weeks we can sit down together and sort through everything, but right now I am not ready to come to any decisions. Brodie is too fresh in my head still, and your argument with me is indelibly linked to Brodie's death. I relive his death and your argument with me every night when I sleep."

"You have nightmares about the argument we had?"

"Yes, every night. My nightmares are all the same. They are of me shooting Brodie and then you yelling at me for it, blaming me for it. As I said, I am having a hard time but I am working through it."

"What are you doing to work through it? Is there anything I can do to help?"

"I have gained ten pounds over the last month and I no longer fit into my jeans. The last time we broke up I did the same thing and my mother asked me whether I was pregnant. Hopefully my grandmother won't tell everyone at the hair salon this time. I am already dealing with her comments about me shooting Brodie and, judging by what I heard last night, I will have to deal with comments on the drugging thing. She wants to tell everybody I was almost raped." I grimaced. "I would probably be handing Brodie better if we hadn't broken up the same day, and conversely I would be handling breaking up with you better if I had not shot Brodie. The two together have been a double whammy and have really set me back a few paces. I'll recover. It will just take a bit of time. I'm trying to give myself that time."

"When you are ready to talk, let me know."

"You will be the first to know. In the meantime, think about where you stand. Think about what you want. Because together we will have to come to some decisions about what is best for the both of us, and how we will move forward from this point out. It is not a decision we should take lightly. I coasted into my first marriage. It didn't work. I don't want to coast into another commitment without thinking of all the ramifications first." I stood again and put my muffin wrappings in the garbage.

Morelli followed suit. As I moved back to the table, he grabbed me around my waist and pulled me in for a hug. "Just remember, when you are doing all your thinking, that I love you." He kissed me on the tip of my nose.

"I know. And I love you, too. I just don't know if I love you the way I need to love you in order to move past all our other issues."

"I hope you can forgive me."

"I forgave you a long time ago. What I can't do is forget. I don't know if I ever will be able to."

Morelli leaned down and kissed me in a kiss so sweet it confused me even more. I started to cry. He leaned back and, using his thumbs, wiped away my tears. "All I seem to do is make you upset."

"I know. It's best if you go now. We can talk again in another few weeks to see where we stand."

Morelli gathered up his laptop and put it back in his bag. He came back over to me and gave me a light kiss on my lips. "You know where to find me if you need me. I look forward to talking to you about this in another two or three weeks." I walked Morelli down to the lobby and signed him out. Saying goodbye to him, I took the elevator up to Ranger's apartment for some space to have a good cry.

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