It had been twelve months since my incident with the Slayers. My life had taken a total turn (for the better). I had spent a week holed up in the fourth floor apartment of the RangeMan apartment, too petrified to leave my bed, too scared to let my gun out of my sight. When the bruises faded, however, and there were less reminders of my ordeal each time I moved, I began to recover.
I stopped hiding, and went back to work.
I stopped ignoring the phone, and went back to dodging my mother's calls.
I stopped staying in the RangeMan Building, and moved back to my apartment.
But I didn't start to live again.
I learnt to use my gun, I stopped being afraid of it. I learnt to kill a man with my bare hands, and I learnt to defend myself with a variety of weapons. I earned some street credibility and I earned myself the respect of co-workers to whom, in the past, I'd been little more than a fly in need of being squashed. I earned money, and moved apartments. I brought myself a car, and it didn't blow up.
Morelli and I were over. It was only a matter of time, after the Slayer fiasco, until he learnt where I'd been staying (although I still believe he already knew) and then his jealous streak took care of the rest. He didn't like it that I froze when he touched me. He didn't like it that I had turned to Ranger, not him. He didn't like it that I didn't dare look him in the eyes. I didn't argue with him when he broke up with me, I had known it was coming, and truth be told I was glad. I didn't argue when my mother told me I was losing my last chance at a happy married life and children. I just bowed my head and nodded.
I became more independent, after that, though. I stopped going to my parents for dinner, and I learnt to cook. I stopped calling my police friends for information and started using the more informative sources on the street. I stopped calling Ranger to bail me out when I got in too deep, and bailed myself out.
In all honesty, I felt betrayed by Ranger. He'd told me that if Morelli was no longer in my bed, and if it remained empty for too long, he'd be back in it. I was waiting, damnit! I was eagerly waiting for his return, and yet something was holding him back. Morelli was clearly as far away from my bed as possible, and although my bed wasn't empty, there was never any commitment from either party - we all have needs, right! Except the string of one-night stands didn't satisfy my needs. I wanted, needed, Ranger. For a few months after Morelli stepped out of my life, I spent every night anticipating Ranger's arrival at my bedroom door.
He never came, and
we barely spoke.
If we passed each other, it was either at the police station, delivering a skip, or it was at the Office getting a check or a new file, or talking to Vinnie. He would nod at me and say politely"Babe" his voice a silent caress upon my shoulders, a caress he didn't know he was giving.
"Ranger" I would reply, my voice even and calm, with a flashed smile in his direction.
At first I had imagined this exchange to be foreplay of some sort. Now it just irritated me. I had moved beyond desire and into need. His promise that I kept waiting for him to fulfill, remained unfulfilled. My bed was cold.
If we had to work together on a skip, rare though it was now, it was done with limited exchanging of words; he'd hand me the file and explain procedure if it wasn't the norm. I would clarify and then he'd hand me the mic and say quietly"Go gettem, Tiger."
I wondered how long he wanted me to wait for him, how long before I should force myself to stop waiting for his call, for him to break into my apartment, for him to make the next move. I've never been patient and for me to wait twelve months, without taking action is rare.
One night, he called me for a job. Distraction work. I made up my mind at that moment that it was time to take a risk. I was sick of waiting, so I had to make the first move - it wasn't going to be just some lousy old skip I'd be distracting; I wanted to distract Ranger, drive him crazy.
I had him drop the file off early, told him I'd drive myself as I had a date afterwards (I organized with an old friend to meet up for a drink, maybe). I recognized the skip as an old... friend... and smirked with silent glee; this was perhaps going to be easier than expected. The silent anticipation built in the pit of my stomach as I recognized the potential this evening had to go either way. One thing I knew, was that there was no going back. That, in itself, led butterflies into my stomach and encouraged them to fly around, just building the nerves within my body.
I slipped into a tight black leather mini, paired it with a white bustier with black ribbon and lace detailing and curled my hair, piling it on top of my head with just a few curls dribbling down my back. Around my neck, I wore a black choker with a diamond and around my wrist, a handcuff bracelet. My shoes were spiked, four-inch strappy ones, with two strings of leather, which wrapped around my leg to just below my knees.
When I slipped into the car, I was wearing a black jacket over the top, knowing that there would be someone following me and not wanting to ruin the surprise. I slipped the microphone under my left breast and put the receiving earrings into my ears (white diamonds). I drove my silver Carrera to the club and walked up to Lester who was the bartender. He smiled at me and dipped his head, opening the pathway for me. I placed a soft kiss on his cheek and he blushed.
When I stepped inside, I let the atmosphere wash over me for a few moments, the music pounding to the beat of my pulse, the lighting shimmering around. I scanned the room and spotted my backup, Tank sitting in a back corner, nodded a small tight nod in my direction. Bobby on the dance-floor winked at me and Ranger behind the bar cut me a faint smile. I continued to scan the room, ignoring their acknowledgement until I spotted the cloakroom. I delivered my coat there and smirked at the intake of breath that came through my microphone.
My skip was sitting in the corner diagonally opposite Tank. His name was Eric and he was from South Africa (originally, anyway). He had been arrested in connection with a murder. He and I had been acquaintances since just after I returned from college. I put on a wide-eyed look of amazement and walked directly towards him. I tapped him on the shoulder, ignoring the outraged mutterings from the boys and a loud"WHAT ARE YOU DOING WOMAN" from Tank.
I said"is that you! Oh my god, it is! What are you doing
He looked me up and down and then beamed"STEPHANIE" he enveloped me in a hug"How are you, Babe" he asked.
I grinned at the growl that came down the line from, I assume, Ranger, and the "you know the skip, Bombshell" from Lester.
"I've been better, Rico" I said, sitting down beside him "but it's been years! What have you been up to" The knots in my stomach easing up as I realized that, if nothing else, Eric was still the same as always - energetic, exuberant and fun-loving.
"Oh, you know" he shrugged"a bit of this, a bit of that. Moved up and down the coast a few times; went back home to visit. Are you still working at E.E. Martin"
I shrugged, shaking my head"nah, got a bit boring. I'm working for my cousin, now."
"And are you still with that scumbag Dickie? I can't believe you broke up with me for him"
"I wish I hadn't" I said dryly"No. I divorced his sorry ass about nine months after we got married."
"Geez, what did he do" Eric looked surprised"you were all into getting married, you were all about making it work! How did it only last nine months"
"Do you remember Joyce" I asked with a scowl"that's who he did."
"Shit babe" Eric shook his head"I'm sorry." He turned to the lady beside him"Lisa this is Stephanie. Stephanie, this is Mike's girl Lisa. Lisa why don't you go find Mike and have a dance"
Lisa nodded shyly and teetered onto the dance floor, her heels clearly not normal attire for her.
"So are you single now" Eric asked, his eyes piercing mine.
I nodded"Single is my middle name" I grinned"why? You interested"
"Are you" he asked simply.
I nodded again and his smile widened into a predatory grin that I used to know so well. About this time I usually began to feel desire and need clenching around my body, but this time I just felt sick. I was going to betray him, one of my best friends.
He slipped one arm around my shoulders and pulled me towards him, and then his mouth came down on mine. All thoughts left my head, at that moment, although I wondered briefly why I broke it off with him, he was damn good at kissing, but then I let the thought leave my mind and focused on Eric. When he pulled back a moment later I took a deep breath"Damn you're good at that." I shook my head, and leaned back in for more. He matched my every move and finally I broke away and grinned, leaning into his shoulder"That was nice" I murmured.
"Yeah, it was." He agreed. He pulled a deck out of his pocket and asked"you still smoke"
I shook my head"Nah. I quit a few years back."
"You used to smoke, Bombshell" Bobby demanded over the mic.
"What brought that on" Eric asked, and I ignored the conversation over the mic.
"Fresh start after Dickie" I shrugged"seemed like a good idea."
"Do you want one" he offered.
I looked at them and remembered briefly how good it had been to smoke, how relaxed I'd gotten, would the rush still be the same? Would I still feel as good? Then I shook my head"no thanks. I'm going to take a bathroom break."
He smiled at the expression. I'd been using it since high-school, and he had always said it was cute.
"I missed that, you know" he murmured.
I grinned"well, I'll be back."
As I walked to the bathroom, the guys erated my through the microphone.
"Stephanie, why didn't you tell us he was an old bed-mate of yours" Ranger demanded"And what are you doing kissing your target"
"When did you smoke" Bobby again"I can't believe you used to smoke"
"What's going on" from Lester.
"Bombshell, that was one hell of a kiss you let him lay on you. What the hell is going on" Tank was clearly confused.
When I stepped into the bathroom and ensure that there was nobody there, I answered their questions"I didn't think it would matter that he was an old acquaintance" I answered Ranger"and trust me; I'll get him to the cop shop. Knowing Rico he probably got stoned and forgot his court date. I took up smoking after Morelli left for the navy" I continued"and I quit when I divorced Dickie. Tank; I'm single and Rico is a good man and a great bed-partner."
"You're going downhill, Stephanie" Ranger said, his voice acid"first the cop, then the street thug, and now a murderer, not to mention all the one-night stands? How low can you go"
This made my face darken and I said murderously"You've been keeping track of my sex life? That's just rude. But let me give you something to think about; maybe I don't care about where they come from. Maybe it's about how they treat me." I sighed"and trust me, I can only go uphill from where I've been. He wouldn't have to work hard to be better than most of the guys I've been with" my voice was soft as I checked my mascara.
I returned to Rico's seat to find him dancing with some leggy blonde, I scowled slightly. Tank and Ranger let out light mutterings"maybe he's not as interested as you thought, Steph" Ranger sneered. I ignored him, and strode confidently onto the dance floor. "Rico" I said"I didn't know you could dance like that! Dance with me"
He placed a kiss on the blondes cheek and pulled me to him. I didn't resist, but moved with him, the beat of the music still pounding in my blood. I ground against him for a moment and then took a step back, turned to face away from him. I pushed my ass towards his groin and then began to push down gently grinding to the ground before swinging my ass out and pulling him back up again. I spun around again and let him trap my mouth against his as we swayed to the music. "How's a breath of fresh air feel" I murmured, leaning against his chest when we broke apart"I need to talk to you."
He nodded"you here to take me to the cop shop" he asked, looking at me seriously.
I returned his nod"yeah. You knew I was a Bounty Hunter"
"No" He shook his head"but the bartender is, and he hasn't taken his eyes off you all night. I figure he either wants into your pants or he wants my hands in cuffs."
"Well if you come outside quietly, he'll be gentle" I grinned.
"I will not" Ranger exclaimed"he's a murderer."
"Ranger if you aren't gentle I'll cut your balls off" I snapped"Rico is a friend of mine, you'd do well to treat him as such"
Rico grinned"he don't like me" he asked
"I don't know what his problem is" I shrugged"come on, lets get this over with."
I led him outside into the light and he spun me around"it's going to take them a few" he paused at the choker around my neck"you kept it" he breathed"and you're wearing it still"
I nodded"it's one of my favourite pieces" I said quietly.
"I thought you'd broken it, or something" he breathed, his hand tracing it around my neck, making me shiver"But it's as good as it ever was"
"It was special, Rico" I said quietly"It was yours and it was ours. I couldn't give it back to you, because I couldn't find you, but it meant something to me. I held onto it."
He crushed his lips down on my throat, tracing the choker with his tongue this time. I moaned low and sensuously at the sensations he caused to reverberate through my body. "Rico" I breathed, then pushed him away, taking a deep breath"I can't do this now" I said after a moment"come on, lets get you down to the station."
He nodded and I led him to my car, cuffing him securely to the passenger door. Tank strolled out of the club at that moment and nodded"Ranger will meet you at the police station" he said quietly, his eyes on Rico.
I shrugged and pulled out of the lot. Rico asked me a few questions and then asked me something about Ranger. I sighed"Ranger is a good friend" I said quietly.
like more than that" Rico pushed"he did not like my hands or my
mouth near you."
"Well he had his chance" I was sad, a tear rolling down my face"I can't wait forever and I shouldn't have to."
"What do you mean" Rico had always been a good listener. I explained the long sordid tale of Ranger and I to him and he nodded"Well, I don't know how much of tonight you meant, but for what it's worth; I'm still interested" he said, kissing my cheek.
I smiled a soft, sad smile"Thanks Rico. Look me up when you're out and we'll do lunch sometime" I pulled into the police station back door"Where do you want me to send the choker" I asked"your parents"
and pick it up" he said"when I'm out. Hold onto it, for
I nodded and helped him out of the car, and into the station"Got a delivery for Manoso" I said when I realized Ranger wasn't there"He'll be here with the papers in a minute."
Eddie Gazzara, an old childhood friend looked up"Hey Steph" he said"I'll just start on the paperwork. Who've you got"
"ERIC" Eddie whirled around"what the fuck happened to you, man! You just freaking disappeared all those years ago"
While Eddie filled out the paperwork, he and Eric caught up - I was glad Eddie was on tonight, he and Eric had been good friends in the past. Ranger arrived with the paperwork, avoiding my gaze as he filled out the necessary sections and signed off. He nodded to Eddie and ignored Rico and I. I sighed when he left the room"I suppose that was going to happen" I murmured, kissing Rico briefly and nodding to Eddie"I'm going home. Look me up when you're out Rico."
I pushed open my apartment door a few hours later and collapsed into bed, switching off the microphone and letting go. My sobs came over and over again as I remembered the way Ranger had avoided looking at me and the sneering words the boys had sent over the mic-system as I'd driven home. I don't think they realized that I still had the receiver on.
After that night, I lived in fear of seeing any of the RangeMan team again. I didn't want to see their faces, I didn't want to know what they were thinking. I spoke to Connie and arranged to pick up files after the guys had been in for the day.
But I couldn't avoid them forever, and one day Ranger called me. I picked up, with my usual"What"
"Babe" he began to say something, but I hung up in shock. And then my shock doubled as I realized what I'd done.
Something began to build in the pit of my stomach, a lump of emotion that I had been feeling non-stop for twelve months began to grow.