After washing my face and reapplying my mascara, I went down to the control room to talk with Hal. He was monitoring the internal cameras as well as all the Rangeman tracking systems in cars and on people. I personally have one on my car, as well as a GPS tracker in my purse. I have tried to get rid of them, but they always reappear without my knowing. I used to find this level of monitoring invasive, but the trackers have proven themselves so useful whenever my car gets stolen or incapacitated, I get lost or stolen, or when my life is in danger that I have learned to live with the intrusiveness.
"Hal, I hear we are going out together this afternoon while I run errands. I hope you are all right with that."
"I always like spending time with you. Did everything go all right with Morelli? You looked upset and I wondered whether you would like me to come down and break things up in there."
I leaned down and kissed Hal on the cheek. "Thanks. You are a good friend. I was all right. We were just having a 'relationship talk' and it was a little difficult to handle."
"Okay. But if you ever need any muscle to beat him up or something, just let me know and I will be happy to step in. You are like a sister to me, and I would be there for you if you need me."
"Thanks, Hal." I made arrangements to meet him in the break room at one o'clock after I had lunch with Ranger.
I went to the break room to grab a coffee and some lunch before heading to Ranger's office. I ran into Miguel. "I heard you are taking my patrol partner today and I will have to do patrol solo", he said with a smile. Then, looking at me more closely, he saw my blotchy eyes and red nose. "Morelli?" he asked. "I heard he was in the building."
"Yeah, but it's all right. It was a good conversation to get over with."
"Do you need me to sort him out? I would do that for you. You are like a sister to me. Just let me know and I will be there for you."
"Thank you. You and Hal are like your own little lynching army. I will be all right, thanks. No lynching is required."
"Just let me know if you change your mind."
On the way out of the break room I ran into Raphael. "I heard Morelli was in the building. I almost came down to make sure you were okay." He took one look at my face and said "I should have come down, shouldn't I? Do you need me to teach him some manners? I would be happy to do so."
"Thank you for the offer, but I should be all right."
"Okay. If you change your mind, let me know. I will be there for you."
I walked into Ranger's office with a smile on my face. When he looked up questioningly at me, I said "the guys are so protective, but in a good way. Morelli came by to show me the video. I couldn't help him at all. The effects of the drug hit me within about five minutes after Lundel spiked the drink. After Morelli showed me the video we started having a 'relationship talk'. It has been a few weeks coming. I ended up in tears. Since I got back on the floor twenty minutes ago, I have had three people offer to beat Morelli up. It's nice to think there is a whole team of people behind me, not only professionally but personally as well."
"You are well liked."
"Thank you, but it is more than that. I think of the guys like an extended family. It is nice to know they think of me the same way. A couple of them even told me I was like a sister to them. I never had brothers, but this is what I imagine having brothers would be like."
"It can be."
"Is that what it is like with your sisters?"
"Yes, I would do anything for them. Including beating up a cop if I felt such a thing was needed. Just like you did for the guys, when you confronted Brodie so he would stop shooting Ralph." It was true. A few hours before I ended up shooting Brodie, he had entered the Rangeman facility and shot Ralph, the guard working at reception. Ralph was wearing a flak vest, thankfully, as Brodie shot him two or three times. I put on a flak vest of my own, took a gun, and confronted Brodie before Ranger, Tank and Morelli had a chance to swoop in and be the hero. I subdued Brodie, but that was the basis for the argument Morelli and I had. I still think I did the right thing and would do the same thing all over again.
Ranger got up and, coming over to me, gave me a light kiss on the lips. "It's nice to see you. How did your morning go?" He picked up his lunch off the corner of his desk and brought it over to join me at the small conference table in the corner of his office.
"Good, I guess. I sorted out my laundry this morning, then met with Morelli for an hour. Then I went upstairs for some down time for half an hour, followed by making arrangements to meet with Hal at one o'clock in the break room. I then ran into Miguel and Raphael on the way in here. Pretty boring stuff."
"How did your conversation go with Morelli?"
"Good. We agreed to talk again in another two or three weeks. There were no real surprises. He wants to get back together and apologized for what he said. I told him not to apologize because he meant it, and we were in a stage where we either have to move forward or just stay as friends, but we could not continue coasting as we have been. He didn't like that, but I didn't give him any options so he had to accept it.
"It is hard, because I care about him and I know I am hurting him. I am hurting myself, too. But I don't know if I care enough about him to put up with his lack of respect or his way of dealing with things. I internalize it when he yells at me. It used to be that I would want to be with him when something went wrong because he would make me feel better. Now, I dread seeing him when something goes wrong because I know I will get chewed out. He calls me a disaster magnet. It doesn't make me feel good about myself when he does that. Who wants to think of themselves as a screw-up? But in his mind he is just stating a fact."
"You aren't a disaster magnet."
"Thanks. He may actually be right, but I don't like hearing it from him. I coasted into my first marriage. Dickie was a prick who couldn't keep it in his pants. But I couldn't see that because I had not asked any of the hard questions. I just drifted into marriage with him. I have been together with Morelli for a long time. I doubt I want kids, but that doesn't mean I don't want a committed relationship. I do. I want to have someone to come home to every night, someone to wake up beside every morning. Someone to cry with and someone to laugh with. But I'm not sure if that person is Morelli. He is a good friend to me, but his lack of respect for me and what I do for a living is a huge impediment."
"Do you think your unwillingness to get a new job is partly because Morelli wants you to? Because you are putting roadblocks in so you don't get more serious with him?"
"I don't know. I haven't really thought about that before. Maybe?" We sat in silence for a moment, finishing our lunches, when I asked "how did your morning go?"
"It was good. I worked on my new account and have identified the system we will recommend. I then worked with Tank to design the new space in the control room and we ordered the furniture and the electronic equipment for it. It should all be installed in about three weeks. At the same time, your office will be created. I imagine you will be moving offices in about two weeks." Ranger gathered up his garbage from lunch and stood up. "Are we still on for four o'clock today?"
"Sure. Do you want me to meet you here?"
"That would be great. We could do half an hour in the range and an hour in the gym."
Hal and I drove first to the police station to pick up my body receipt for Virginia Myaneski. Hal hadn't got the memo that this was not a protection detail. He walked behind me and to the side at all times, hands loose and ready to unholster his gun. He was following me so closely and scrutinizing the area surrounding us so intently I wondered what he would do if I stopped suddenly. I decided not to try it. He was doing me a favour by accompanying me for the day.
After picking up my body receipt, we drove to Rangeman. We parked in the back parking lot and entered the office through the back door. I gave my two body receipts to Connie and waited while she wrote cheques for me.
"Hey, girlfriend. Hey, Hal sweetie. How's it hangin'?" said Lula.
Taking lessons from Ranger, Hal just smiled. "Things are going much better today than they were yesterday", I said.
"Well, at least you aren't in the hospital today. What exactly happened, anyway?"
"I made a recommendation on someone for one of Ranger's clients. The person I was recommending the client not to hire is mad at me for making the recommendation. He vandalized my apartment yesterday morning, and spiked my drink with GHB in the afternoon. Ranger caught him trying to kidnap me and got me to the hospital shortly afterwards."
Vinnie came out of his office. "Have the drugs left your system now?"
"Yes, I feel much better today." I was surprised at Vinnie's show of caring.
"Then why the hell are you still in here? I have outstanding skips for you to catch. I'm not made of money, you know. I'm bleeding out here." And now we were back to the old Vinnie.
"Vinnie, you have three outstanding skips. Connie just handed them to me. And none of them are high bonds. You are not bleeding out."
"I have a bunch of bonds that come due over the next two weeks. You and I both know not all those fuckers will show at court. You could get very busy in the next couple of weeks."
"I hear you. I will do the computer work at Rangeman this afternoon and pick up Lula tomorrow to capture these guys." I put the new files in my bag with the two cheques. I said goodbye to Connie and Lula, hearing Lula call out "goodbye, girlfriend. Goodbye, Hal, sweetie. Let me know if you ever want a tug, if you know what I mean. I am always in the business for big guys like you." I glanced over at Hal and saw that his face had blushed to a bright red colour. I followed him out of the office.
"What next?" asked Hal.
"Bank next. And then to my parents' house for coffee, and to the florist's, then back to Rangeman."
"Which bank?" I told him that I wanted to go to Trenton Cooperative. He drove to the branch and followed me into the bank, in full protection detail as I went to the ATM and deposited my cheques. Leaving with a bank account that was slightly healthier than when I had entered the bank, Hal drove me to my parents' house.
My parents live in a semi-detached house in the heart of the Burg. It was painted a soft yellow colour and the front door was painted a deep red. For years it had been painted a mud brown colour on the bottom third of the siding and a mustard yellow on the top two-thirds of the house. When Brodie graffitied all over the house a month ago, my mother had it painted a butter yellow colour. I am still getting used to it. I liked the thought that nothing changed at my parents' house and I could always count on my parents' house being the same no matter how crazy my life got. I am having a much harder time acclimatizing myself to the new paint colour than they are.
In her unerring instinct that lets her know when one of the family is coming over for a visit, my grandmother was standing, looking out the door. As we walked up the path, my grandmother opened the door to us and said "isn't this a nice surprise!" She gave me a hug and a kiss. "I didn't know you were coming over today. Hal, I haven't seen you in a while. How are you? Are you coming in for coffee? We just got a cinnamon streusel coffee cake from the bakery this morning, and there is a fresh pot of coffee on." And see, that is one of the special things about coming home. There is always a new coffee cake just purchased, and there is always a fresh pot of coffee on.
Hal and I went back through the living room and dining room to the kitchen. I said "hi" to my mother and went over to her to give her a hug and a kiss. "See, Mom? All in one piece."
"But for the grace of God", my mother said as she crossed herself. She cut slabs of cake for each of us while I poured coffee. We all sat at the small kitchen table, Hal wedging himself as best as he could in the small space. My mother looked at me as I carried the coffee to the table. "Oh, my God. You're pregnant!" She plunked herself down on the chair and looked longingly at the cabinet in which she kept her whiskey.
"I'm not pregnant", I said.
My grandmother starting fanning herself. "Who's the father? Is it Joe? Is it Ranger? Is it Hal? How was he in bed?" Hal looked up in shock at me, shaking his head in a vehement no.
"I am not pregnant!"
My mother gave in, got up and poured herself two fingers of whiskey. She looked at us. "Does anyone else want some? You can't have any, Stephanie. It isn't good for the baby." My mother knocked back the drink and poured herself another.
"I'M NOT PREGNANT."
"There is no shame in it, dear. Even Valerie got pregnant out of wedlock", said my grandmother. And it's true. My perfect sister, Saint Valerie, got pregnant before she was married to her second husband. It was a shock to the family and the talk of the neighbourhood.
"For the love of God, I. AM. NOT. PREGNANT."
"You aren't pregnant?" asked my mother.
"Not unless I am capable of immaculate conception."
"Thank God", said my mother. "I didn't know if I had it in me to be a grandmother to another child born out of wedlock."
"Hopefully you will never have to worry about that again."
"You need to settle down, start your family."
"We talked about this, Mom. I don't want a family."
"You aren't getting any younger. I just don't want you to miss out. Having children is one of God's given pleasures." My mom was getting a starry look in her eyes. With the direction this conversation was heading, I thought this might be a good time to leave. I stood up. "Wait!" cried my mother. "We need to finish talking about this."
"Mom, we have talked about this so many times already. We even talked about this last night. There is nothing more to say on the subject." I sat back down again.
"But you have to have children."
"Why? I am happy being an aunt and, I think if I am not sure whether I want children, it isn't right for me to bring children into this world. I see many children through my line of work that are unwanted, that were not loved the way they deserved to be. And they get involved in gangs, looking for that love. They get involved in crime, because they don't have parents at home who care enough about them to make sure they live on the straight and narrow path. I am not saying I would be a neglectful parent. But I think children sense whether you want them or not, no matter what you do. I would hate to have children and for them to sense I didn't want them after all. It is the kind of mistake you can't fix. At this point I definitely do not want children. I am very happy with Rex and my nieces. I love my nieces, but I also love being able to hand them back to Valerie at the end of the day. I don't want the responsibility and I don't want the work."
"That is very selfish of you."
"I don't see that as being selfish. I see that as being realistic. And I think that it is selfish of you to want me to have children so you can have more grandchildren to cuddle."
"No! I am only thinking of you."
"Then, if you are thinking of me, think about what I want. I don't want children. They don't fit in with my life and I am not willing to change my life." I stood up.
"What about Joe? What does he want?"
"I don't know what Joe wants. At this point, I don't know if he knows what he wants. But while I know I don't want kids, I am not sure whether I want Joe. I don't know what will happen with him. We have some things to work out. I will let you know when Joe and I have decided."
"But at this point you have split."
"Yes. At this point we are not together. We are taking a breather and re-evaluating where we want to be right now and where we are going in our lives."
"He's a keeper and you are letting him get away", said my grandmother. "You can tell just by looking at him he would be good in the sack. And that's important. You can be friends with dozens of people but it is important to be married to someone who is good in the sack."
"Ma!" exclaimed my mother.
"Was Grandpa good in the sack?" I asked, smiling.
"Not as good as he could have been. He had a little thingy, if you know what I mean. That's why I know what I am talking about. You need to marry someone who is good in bed."
My mom, shooting daggers at my grandmother, said "what happens if Joe walks away from you while you are deciding about him?"
"Then he will make a wonderful husband to someone else. That is a chance I am willing to take."
"You're a fool", said my mother. My grandmother nodded in agreement.
"That may be, but only time will tell whether I am the fool or the smart one." I leaned over my mother and gave her a hug and a kiss goodbye, then did the same with my grandmother. Hal thanked my mother and grandmother for their hospitality, and then we left.
As we got in the car, I apologized to Hal for the scene he had to witness. "That's okay, Steph. I have had friends who are girls who have told me about that kind of family pressure. I thought they were exaggerating. I can see now they were not. Why does it matter so much to parents to have their children procreate? It doesn't make sense."
"I don't know. Maybe it is because we work in the area of society we work. It would be hard for us to close our eyes to the dangers children would have to face, day after day. I don't think I could take it. I think I would be a terrible parent."
"I don't know, Steph. You are highly protective and loving. I think you would make a good parent. Whether or not you would enjoy it is another story."
"So many options ahead of me." I sighed. "I feel like I am being pressured to figure it all out and I don't feel qualified to do so."
"Luckily you don't have to figure it out today. You have time, even if your family or Morelli wants you to make a decision sooner than you are comfortable. Just remember you don't have to. You can make that decision whenever you want."