Happy New Year one and all... and yeah, angsty warning a tad, not too much, but a tad...Let me know what you think please! It feeds my muse!
I laughed, and hugged Ranger tightly to me. 'Iloveyou.' I whispered to him.
'Iloveyoutoo.' He replied, smiling for me only.
And suddenly, nothing was quite so bad anymore.
Psycho wise, we were back to square one. We spent the night going over everything we knew - again. It was long and boring, and I vaguely remember Ranger carrying me to his bed before oblivion hit. I slept like the dead and awoke suddenly. And most importantly, I awoke with an idea.
I climbed out of the bed, pulling on a pair of sweats, only peripherally noting that Ranger was still in our bed. I all but ran to the office room and started flicking through documents.
One of the files comprised of information on men Stephanie had dated. It was a thin file. And it was exactly the kind of information my parents would have produced. I rolled my eyes and located the telephone number for Stephanie Orrato's parents. Five minutes later I had finessed the cell number of Orrato's best friend, Renee.
I dialled the cell number, making my introductions quickly; vaguely outlining the reason I was calling without going into graphic detail.
'So you're being stalked too?' said Renee, sounding worried for me.
'It looks that way.' I said grimly, 'but I wouldn't worry about it, this stuff always happens to me, I'm a Bounty Hunter.' It was always easier to sound tough on the phone, esp when they weren't looking at my 5" 7' frame with disbelief.
'Oh.' Renee sounded relieved. Suddenly she turned fierce, 'so you're going to get the guy who did it, right? I never believed that it was her boyfriend; Jack was too loving, too soft. He could never of hurt Stephanie.'
'That's the plan.' I confirmed. 'I just need to ask you a few questions.'
'Shoot.' Renee said, and I clicked on my ballpoint pen and got down to it.
Twenty minutes later I had a long list of guys who had ever indicated interest in Stephanie Orrato, including childhood crushes and teenage loves. The list was long. Stephanie had been a popular girl.
I had put stars by the names of anyone currently seeing someone or married. They weren't off the list, just lower down in priority.
I figured that the psycho that was after me had chosen me because I looked like Orrato, and my name was Stephanie, and he was obsessed with her. It was more than likely that he had made contact with her at some point; either admiring her from afar or briefly dating her before being dumped.
A crime like this, if it had been truly serial, would have already pulled up so many FBI flags by now that it would be like a one-person parade. I could only conclude that Orrato was the first. Maybe he'd gotten a taste for it; maybe he couldn't bear her rejection of him, and was now deluding himself about me, either way, it wasn't sunshine and rainbows for me.
Orrato had lived near the Miami area, and according to Renee hadn't even travelled to Trenton, and yet - the psycho had found me. My best bet was that he had seen a newspaper article about me once.
I thanked Renee for the information and disconnected.
With a sigh I dialled my second cousin's son's number, who worked at the Trenton Times.
'Hey Bill.' I said easily, 'It's Steph.'
'Steph! Great to hear from you, finally going to give me that exclusive interview?' he asked cheerfully.
I snorted, 'you think I'm going to speak to you? You're the one that decided to call me The Bombshell Bounty Hunter!'
'When it fits…'
I rolled my eyes, 'Can you do your thing and find any newspaper articles that mention me, and find out where they circulated?'
I heard a stream of rapid taps on the keyboard, 'It's pulling up a lot Steph, any way to narrow the search down? Hey, I didn't know you sang in the church choir competition! Second place, way to go!'
'Recent articles.' I said, through gritted teeth, ignoring my gospel singing days, 'Anything from my twenties and up.'
'Gotcha.' He said, making some more clicking noises.
'Ok, a sum total of 29 articles.' He paused, 'most of them are post-E. E. Martins, you know, dead bodies, exploding cars. None of the articles are circulated beyond the Trenton area, but there's always the possibility of articles on the web about you, in which case...'
'Worldwide.' I sighed.
'Yeah.' Bill paused, 'if this is going to help you on a case can I get dibs on the interview?'
I sighed again, 'Maybe Bill, maybe.' If I'm alive at the end of it.
The articles were only in the Trenton area, so that meant that the psycho had passed through, most likely on dates that the articles were printed, or lived in the area. Now I had a list of ex's and something to cross reference with. Either that or this was a complete wild goose chase.
It was a lead, I told myself firmly, whether it panned out or not, it was a lead.
I leaned back into my chair with a satisfied stretch, and abruptly realised I wasn't alone, not even a little bit. Everyone from the re-evaluation yesterday was sitting round the desk looking at me, waiting in silence.
I blinked in surprise and Lester grinned at me. 'The boss said you had an idea. Looks like you did.'
'I…well…yeah.' I said succinctly.
Ranger came and stood behind me, resting his hands lightly on my shoulders, 'you got the floor Babe.'
I took a deep breath and outlined my thoughts.
When I was finished there was thoughtful nods all round. The list of ex's names I'd made was split up and each of the MM had some assigned to him. The team dispersed quickly, finally with motivation and a goal.
'Good work tiger.' Ranger said, looking like he was thinking of smiling.
'Thanks.' I smiled. 'I'm going to take a shower if that's ok.'
Ranger nodded, 'Sure.'
I got up and gave him a soft kiss on the lips before I left. I put an extra swing in my hips as I walked out the room, knowing he'd be looking. I paused at the doorway and looked back at him, smiling at the heat in his eyes.
I've still got it, I smirked to myself. And my good mood lasted until after my shower, when my cell rang. It was Mary Lou.
She was crying, and through her sobs I managed to make out the words, 'Lennie', 'Pot roast' 'Sex'.
I didn't know quite what to say to that, so I assured her I would be over in thirty minutes. I hung up and went on a Ranger hunt.
I found him amidst two computers and three piles of papers. He was frowning fractionally, which was Ranger's equivalent of several head-thunks on a steering wheel; he was frustrated.
'Hi.' I said, kissing him lightly on the head. 'Mary Lou called; she sounded really upset. I said I would come over.'
His frown lines deepened. I held a hand up to forestall his objections. 'I'll wear a GPS thingy, and you can put two guards on me, I'll even ride in their car. But I'm going.'
It was a compromise, a big compromise for me, and we both knew it.
'She needs me.' I said softly, and saw his resistance crumble, I wouldn't be who I am if I didn't go to my friends aid, and he knew it.
'You'll wear GPS, ride with the men, they will escort you to the door, you will call them when you wish to be escorted back to the car, and you will not leave the house.'
I flashed him a grateful smile, 'thanks.' I decided it didn't really cut it as thanks, so I lifted the laptop off his lap carefully, putting it on the table behind me, and deposited myself there instead.
I leaned forward and kissed his neck lightly, kissing my way up to his jaw, licking the shell of his ear. I smiled in satisfaction as his breathing hitched and deepened. I nibbled his ear lightly, then whispered into his ear, 'thank you.' He turned his head and met my eyes with his, then his eyes flickered down to my lips and then his lips did the same. He kissed me long, slowly and deeply, setting every nerve on my body on fire.
Eventually he pulled back and I moaned in disappointment. 'Your welcome.' He breathed softly.
Lord knows how I managed to pull myself away from my own personal hunk of burning love, but I guess I have more will power than I thought. Besides, Mary Lou needed me, and we may not be as close as we were once, but she's always got my back, and I've got hers. So, half an hour later, I found myself decked out in the latest GPS technology shoved down my bra, and parked out front Mary Lou's house.
I argued that putting the GPS in my pocket was fine, but Ranger gave me that look, and then reached down my top painfully slowly, caressing my curves deliberately as he placed the GPS thing in my cleavage.
Slowly he smiled at me, 'The pockets not as fun.'
Despite myself, I blushed, and Ranger chuckled slightly.
I pulled myself out of my Ranger-induced coma as Hal cleared his throat loudly. 'Are you going in Miss Plum?' He asked, shooting me an amused glance.
'You've been spending too much time with Lester.' I muttered.
The other MM in the car, the notorious Woody, chuckled.
'Let's go.' I said, resigned to being followed to the door like Mary and her sheep. Actually, thinking about it, it was kind of pertinent, being as it was Mary Lou that I was visiting. I started humming 'Mary had a little lamb', and Woody chuckled some more. I decided to call him Mr Chuckles, in my head at least - he was still a Merry Man, with all the muscles and street cred that implied, and he could probably crush me with a thought.
I cleared my face of humour and knocked on the door. It was wrenched open by a still sobbing Mary Lou.
'S-St-Steph!' She wailed. I stepped inside, and the men exchanged relieved glances that they could return to the car. Give a Merry Man a gun-toting murderous war-lord and they were peachy, give them a crying female and watch them run. Nice to know every superhero had a weakness. Or superhero-group. Whatever.
I focussed my attention on the tear-splotched face of my best friend. 'Hey Mare.' I said gently, hugging her, 'What's the matter?'
It took an hour, a tub of ice cream, five doughnuts, and a tray of biscuits to get to the bottom of the crying-spree.
With no surprise I learnt that the cause of her woes was Lennie. I didn't doubt he loved her, not for a second, but one of the first lessons a girl learns, even before make-up and walking in heels, is that men, without exception, are stupid. Thick. Cognitively challenged. However you phrased it, it was still universally true; at some point the man you love is going to open his mouth, and you are not going to be happy with what comes out.
You forgive them, of course, cos that's what Love is all about, but that doesn't change the fact that they are going have an occasional brainless moment. Lennie, had in fact, had two such moments in rapid succession. The first…well, he fell asleep during an intimate moment where Mare was riding woman on top. Falling asleep during sex is generally one way to insure instant offence to the one still awake, and Mare was no exception. She didn't mention it however, feeling that in this instance, perhaps discretion was the better part of valour. But when Lennie had the sheer conniption to suggest, to infer, that the pot roast was dry?! That was the last straw for Mary Lou, who promptly threw her husband and her children to the figurative wolves by sending them to her mother in laws.
The reason why Mary Lou was quite so hysterical was the vast amounts of rum she'd imbibed. So, inevitably, we arrived up in the bathroom as I held Mary Lou's hair out of her face while she reacquainted her throat with her stomach lining. It wasn't my favourite thing, not by a long shot; watching someone worship the porcelain God invariably sent waves of nausea to my otherwise steely stomach. Dead bodies? No problem. Hacked body parts? Move on. Someone throwing up? Ack. No, not my favourite thing.
Which is why my eyes were squeezed tightly shut as Mare did the vomiting-hula. I didn't hear the sound of the window scraping open over the sound of Mare's hurling. And when I felt the touch of something cold on my arm my eyes flared open too late. I registered the nothing in front of my eyes before I realised he was behind me. Before I could turn, before I could scream, before I could even whimper, the button on the stun gun was pressed, and treacherous oblivion claimed me.