I knocked on the door to Ella's apartment. Luis let me in and directed me towards the kitchen. I followed my nose. Ella was making dinner for the break room. I could smell the baked beans and the beef barley soup bubbling in their crock pots on the counter. A casserole was in the process of being made for Ranger and myself, as well as one for Luis and Ella. Ella had just finished making what must have been thirty sandwiches and half that each of vegetables and dip, salads, and cut fruit. There was a basket of whole fruit washed and ready to eat, and flats of water and juices to put in the refrigerator. She had placed most of the food on a wheelie cart ready to go down to the break room.
I came into the kitchen and gave the flowers to Ella. "Thank you for doing my laundry yesterday. That must have taken you forever and I am sure it was time you didn't have to spend."
"That is all right. I took things out of the freezer to have for meals for the boys, and I packaged salads and baby carrots because they didn't need any preparation. It all worked out. Everyone was fed and happy, although everyone was worried about you. Are you feeling better?" she asked, burying her nose in the bouquet to smell the flowers before running a vase of water.
"Yes, I am, thanks. It was like a bad hangover. I was able to sleep most of it off while I was at the hospital."
"It was scary. To think what might have happened if Ranger had not come back. Do you know why the kidnapper did it?" Ella put the flowers in the middle of the dining room table.
"Yes and no. We know why he did it – he is mad at me for a recommendation I made. But we don't know what he intended to do with me. I don't know if we will ever know. What we do know, however, is that he has taken a somewhat minor offense like vandalism of my apartment and car and bumped it up to kidnapping. In all honesty, my apartment and cars are vandalized so often the police hardly pay much attention any more. But kidnapping is another story. The police tend to get quite upset about that."
"So does Ranger. I saw him after you got back from the hospital last night, while you were in the shower, and he still looked upset. I haven't seen him that upset since Julie was kidnapped."
"I know. I am sorry I worried everyone like that. I should have been more careful."
"How were you to know? You were at the laundromat. It seems like a fairly innocuous place to be. It should have been safe." She continued cutting up vegetables for the casseroles.
"You would think." I didn't want to tell her, but in my life there is no place that is safe.
I met Ranger at his desk with a box of bullets in hand and a gun upon my leg. Ranger smiled. "Ready to shoot something?" he asked.
"Hell, yeah. I spent the day talking to Joe, getting badgered by Vinnie, and getting harassed by my mother and grandmother. Vinnie wants me to get moving on the three outstanding files. My mother and grandmother want me to marry Joe and settle down to have kids. They are not listening when I tell them I don't want to have kids, or even that I don't think Joe is for me. They barely listened when I told them Morelli and I are taking a break from each other. I was so frustrated. And it was an uncomfortable conversation when they thought I was pregnant and asked Hal if it was his. He handled himself well, having to listen to all that crap. He was very professional. I was impressed."
"I am glad he handled himself well. He is a good man."
"Yes, he is."
We took the elevator down to the basement and walked down to the shooting range. Putting on ear protection and safety glasses, we walked into the range itself. Ranger cued up a body target and sent it down to the far end of the range. I took out the gun and, trying not to think about how much the body target resembled the shape of a person, I shot a clip at the target. I got some bulls-eyes. I refilled the clip while Ranger gave me some pointers and set up a clean target. I again shot a clip into the target and got several more bulls-eyes. After several more clips and targets, we put away our safety gear and went up to the gym.
"You are really improving in your aim and it didn't seem to bother you quite the same as it did a few days ago", said Ranger.
"I tried really hard to ignore the fact I could kill someone. It is the only way I can stay sane while shooting."
"At some point you will have to envision shooting someone, otherwise you will choke if you are in a situation where you are face to face with a killer. It doesn't mean you have to like shooting people. It just means you have to be prepared for the possibility."
We walked into the gym. There were two of the patrol guys lifting weights and Tank was on the treadmill doing cardio. Ranger and I walked over to the mats. I stripped down to my sports bra and I could swear I heard all the oxygen being sucked out of the room by the other men. Ranger turned to glare at them as they stared at me, stupefied, weights forgotten. Only Tank continued what he was doing. He had sparred with me before. The sight of me in my sports bra was not new. Having said that, he looked like he was enjoying Ranger's facial expression and was trying not to laugh. The other two men glanced at Ranger and, seeing his displeasure, turned red and immediately went back to lifting weights again, talking in loud voices about a movie they had seen the night before. While they pretended they no longer saw me, I could see them sneaking surreptitious looks as Ranger led me through a series of stretches.
I am the least flexible person around. Ranger is like a human elastic band. If he was dropped on the pavement, he would bounce. Me, I would splat. Ranger led me through a series of stretches anyway, pushing me gently to help me extend the stretch. "We will work on your stretches every day. You will never be extremely flexible as it does not come naturally to you, but you can be infinitely more flexible than you currently are."
After stretching, Ranger and I practiced a variety of holds. Forward facing, coming at me from the side, from behind, and from the floor. I fought out my frustration at being drugged yesterday, at having my family fail to listen to me today, and at the ongoing situation with Morelli. At the beginning Ranger just let me fight. As the lesson went on and I had worked out some of the frustration, he started to direct me in what he wanted me to do. At times he would walk me through it verbally; at other times he would show me what he wanted me to do. Tank finished his run and warmed down, finishing with stretches. He came over to the mats and volunteered to act as the dummy so that Ranger could better instruct me. "Just be careful. I'm not wearing a jock today", he said with a smile. I have trained with Tank before. He is well familiar with my signature move of kicking a guy in the balls. It has worked well for me in the past.
"You take all the fun out of it, Tank", I said. We worked further on holds from the front, sides and back, leaving the holds from the floor for another day. An hour later I was hot and sweaty, and stiff from all the bending and stretching. Ranger threw me a towel and a bottle of water. After I drank the bottle, he led me through the same series of stretches we had started with. When we left an hour and a half after we had arrived, the two weightlifters were still there, eyeing me while Tank, Ranger and I walked by, and there were three guys out in the hall peeking through the windows and trying to look like they had some reason to be there. Ranger was scowling by the time we reached the elevator.
"I am sorry for the behavior of the guys, Babe. They should know better. Tomorrow I will shut the gym down so that you can train in comfort."
"You don't have to do that. They are just getting excited because they don't have any women in their lives. They weren't being disrespectful. I don't think they would dare considering I was with you."
"My guys are loyal to a fault, but some of them aren't the nicest guys. Some of them have done bad things in their past and are working hard to try to atone for them. However, they might not have the manners to not make you uncomfortable."
"I think, as long as I have a training partner, you won't have to worry. I won't lie. Some of the staff scare me. It's when they have the gang tattoos and the kill marks that I start to get a little nervous. But you will always be with me and none of the staff would ever go against you. And what they are doing now? They are just looking. A woman can't get to her thirties and not be used to men looking at least a little bit. They aren't being disrespectful about it. They aren't staring."
"Okay. Let me know if you ever start to feel uncomfortable. I would be happy to shut down the gym."
Crying, I woke up out of a nightmare. Ranger gathered me into a hug, rubbing my back as I cried myself back to sleep. In what may have been minutes but may have been hours, I woke up again. Easing my way out of bed, I went to the bathroom. I was still unsettled from my nightmare and did not think I would be able to go back to sleep again. I went to Ranger's closet and, getting his bathrobe out, enveloped myself in the comforting smell of Bulgari Green. I checked the time. It was four o'clock. Late enough that I could get up for the day. I stalked to the kitchen and made a fresh pot of coffee. While I waited for it to brew, I went to my bag and pulled out the three files of Vinnie's.
The first felon was Helena Wilson, arrested for identity theft. She was a postal carrier who lived in an apartment building. She had registered for a credit card in her neighbour's name and address. Wilson saw the new credit card arrive when she was delivering the mail. She stole it. The neighbor would not have known of the theft until she received the bills. Unfortunately for Wilson, she used the stolen credit card at a local store. The neighbor whose identity she was stealing was working the cash that day at the store and recognized both her own name as well as the felon's face. She called over security and reported the theft of the card while the felon was in the store. When the felon was arrested, she had fifteen credit cards on her, all made out with different names. It was a medium level bond. We should be able to find her at home. She had been suspended from doing her job at the postal office.
I poured myself a coffee and doctored it with cream. Tiptoeing through the bedroom, I made it almost to the office when Ranger sleepily whispered "Babe? Why are you up?"
"Shh. Everything is okay. I couldn't sleep so I got up to work on Vinnie's files. Go back to sleep. I'll just be in the office on the computer doing searches."
"Everything is not okay if you are having trouble sleeping. Do you want to talk about it?" Ranger sounded very awake now.
"No, I'm good. I'll just work on these files for a while. It is only four o'clock. Go back to sleep." I went into the office and opened up the second file.
The second medium level bond was for Reese Kraust, an eighteen-year old girl who was feeling lazy one day. Instead of taking the dog for a walk through the local park, she held the leash out the window of a moving car and literally dragged her puppy down the street. She put her car up as collateral to secure the bond. She lives in the Burg.
The third file was a low level bond for Victor Wu. He was a very frustrated neighbor. The city has poop and scoop laws, and the dog owner ignored this requirement. Every day at the same time the dog would poop on a Wu's lawn. And every day the owner would refuse to pick up the poop. Victor Wu, tired of having to pick up after the dog, mailed the poop back to the dog owner. The dog owners were not charged as there was no proof that their dog was the one leaving the deposits. However, Mr. Wu put a return address on the package that he sent to the dog owner and the police arrested him for harassment. Mr. Wu also lives in the Burg. We take our dog poop seriously there.
Ranger came through the office with a coffee in his hand. He yawned. "I could make it worth your while to stay in bed, you know. You would still be awake, but it would be much more enjoyable than working for Vinnie."
"Tempting, but no. I am trying to get my head on straight right now. Besides, with missing half the day yesterday dealing with Lundel-related issues, I have to catch up a bit."
"I know. But I thought I would try anyway. I'm not a saint." He smiled one of his half smiles and took a sip of his coffee.
"And I wouldn't want you to be."
"So tell me about your nightmare."
"You aren't going to let up about it, are you?" I asked.
"Nope. Tenacity is my middle name."
"Ricardo Carlos Tenacity Manosa. Kind of catchy." I said, smiling.
"Smart ass", he said. "So, tell me about your nightmare."
I sighed. "It was almost the same nightmare as I have been having nightly. I shoot Brodie, Morelli yells at me. The only difference is in tonight's dream I have children and they see me shoot Brodie. Morelli yells at me, saying I have to give up capturing skips, that it isn't good for the children. I woke up upset because, essentially, I agree with him. I don't think this is a job I can do and be a mother as well. But most of the time I like my job and I think that says something good. No matter how much you love your job there will be times you don't want to do it, or there are tasks you dread. But if you like your job most of the time you are doing well. I haven't seen a job I think I would like better. Sure, I've always wanted to be a mattress tester or massage assessor or mani-pedi evaluator, but I don't think they are actual jobs." I shrugged. "I think all that talk with Morelli and later with my family brought on the twist to the nightmare."
"You worry about children, don't you?"
"I don't want them. I like having a hamster. As long as you feed it, give it water, and periodically clean its cage, you are golden. You don't have to wake up in the middle of the night with it crying, change its dirty diapers, deal with them being sick, clean crayon marks off the walls, or have your house trashed with toys all over the place. You don't have to worry over whether they are eating properly and getting enough exercise or having enough fun time with their friends or are spending too much time on the internet. You don't have to worry about whether they are hanging out with the right people or are getting into trouble when your back is turned."
"Kids are a definite responsibility."
"My mom thinks I am selfish to not want kids. But I think, in this world, you are selfish to want them. My mom doesn't get that. She is so convinced I would love to have kids. And sure, if I had them I know I would love them. But I don't think I would love to have them. There is a difference. I am not willing to change my life and I know that, to be fair to the kids, I would have to change my life significantly."
"You don't have to have children. They are a worry and a blessing all in one. And you are right. The segment of society in which we work is not conducive to having children. That is one reason I live up here and Rachel and Julie live in Miami. You saw it when Julie was kidnapped. We make enemies in our line of work and they will use whatever means they can to get to us. Including manipulating or hurting our children. I don't want to have any more children because of that."
I took a sip of my coffee. "I am finding it is a tough road to make the conscious decision to not have kids. Society expects us – especially women – to reproduce and looks down on us if we do not. Like there is something wrong with us. Realistically? I couldn't even cut it as a dog mother. Bob became Morelli's partly because he was too much work and too much responsibility for me. I love him, but I don't want to care for him. I think I would be the same way with children. I would love them, but I wouldn't want that day in, day out requirement of caring for them."
"What does Morelli want?"
"I always thought he didn't want kids. He too sees that dangerous element in society and does not want to bring up kids in it. Having said that, he is making more and more noises about having kids lately. I don't know if he wants them, however, or if he knows having them will make me quit my job. I don't know if he has thought it through. He isn't a very introspective kind of guy. I'm usually not either, but since Brodie I have been doing a lot of thinking and reevaluating."
"I don't know. I am still working it out in my head."
"If you ever want to talk about it, I am here. Do you want another coffee?" Ranger got out of his chair and went into the kitchen to refill the cups.
I opened up Ranger's laptop, logged into the search engines and inputted the name of my first skip by the time Ranger returned with my coffee. He came up behind me and put the cups down on the desk. Putting his hands on the back of my neck, he massaged the tense muscles for a few minutes. I tipped my head down to give him greater access to my neck. "Mattress tester? Really?" He smiled. He kissed the top of my head, picked up his cup, and took it into the bathroom with him to have his shower. The day had officially started.