Chapter 38


Ranger had left me in the bathroom to strip off the wet clothes and dry myself while he disappeared. Minutes later he'd returned with some dry clothes for me making me sigh when I saw that he'd changed into a dry Rangeman uniform. As I dressed and brushed my hair the events that had taken place went through my head. To be honest I wasn't sure what had happened at the end.

Seeing that knife in Tali's hand had scared me. I knew that she'd killed Manning and Jayce with a knife, but I honestly hadn't expected her to come at me with one. The expression on her face had been totally evil causing me to freeze for a few seconds. How the hell did she think that she could win Ranger over if she killed me? Those few seconds had her moving nearer to me and that was when my brain had kicked in. I started to shake the bottle, okay the smile that leached across Tali's face made me sure that she thought I was going to try and defend myself with the bottle.

How wrong she was, well wrong as to the outcome. Pulling the nozzle up had the required effect, of liquid spraying across and into her face. I kept shaking the bottle and even squeezing hard on it as the liquid sprayed everywhere around us. Oh, she was shocked, pissed even when she felt the effect on her. The only problem was that I was getting a face full of the mace as well. I'd moved quickly to the set of shelves at the back of the room and dropped to the floor pulling out the small gun that Emma had hidden there not surprised when Tali started to move around the couch toward me.

"Clever little trick Stephanie, but I'm almost immune to that stuff"

As she'd continued toward me, I was sure this was going to be the end for me until I wrapped my hands around the gun. I don't know if she saw the gun, but I was aware of the glint of sunlight reflecting from the knife in her hand. Her image was blurred with the tears streaming from my eyes and I was desperate to wipe my hands over them, to stop the burning sensation. I couldn't, I knew that I had to keep watching where her voice had come from. It was the blurred image against the light streaming in through the window that enabled me to follow her movement. There was no cavalry coming, no Ranger to save me this time so with the gun resting on my upright knees I'd pulled the trigger, twice, until her shadow sank to the floor. I had no idea if I'd hit her or if I had where, so continued to sit there staring at where she had been.

Coming out of the bathroom I was suddenly enveloped in an embrace from Emma. Why she was doing that eluding me until she spoke soflty, so only the two of us could hear.

"Thank you. I thought we'd lost you, you are so brave Stephanie Plum"

"You gave me the tools Emma, so thank you for helping"

I had been surprised when Emma had told me about the bottle in the fridge and that I needed to have it on me, just in case. That she then explained to me where she'd hidden a gun was when I started to panic slightly. Panic that Emma had thought that Tali would become violent but also panic at the idea of using a gun.

Moving away from Emma I walked over to Ranger who was stood with another man, a man that I was sure I recognized. I frowned as he stopped talking to look at me, a smile across his face.

"I'll leave you in peace Miss Plum as soon as we're finished up in here"

Had me looking past him to more men who were lifting a body bag onto a gurney. I know I closed my eyes, the horror that I'd killed someone sweeping through me. That was why I hated guns, no good ever came from me using one.

"Babe, Detective Jeffreys won't need a statement, he has a copy of the video and somehow, he was hiding in the stairwell that goes up to the roof. He followed me into the apartment"

That had me looking at Ranger, I'm sure surprise written across my face. Yeah, I had no idea how he had already been here but surely if I shot Tali then he would need a statement.

"You didn't kill her Babe. Detective Jeffreys did"

Now I was confused, how had that happened and why would he shoot her?

"Miss Plum. I know you may think that I was a bad guy, hell, partnering with Rosbourne made my skin crawl. I knew that something was off right from the start, but he just became obsessed with charging you. Him having us go to that apartment where that young woman was killed and then finding you on the rooftop, well it had alarm bells ringing for me. I didn't like his explanation of an anonymous tip, so I started to do my own digging"

It had been him on the rooftop when I was shot, he was the one that was constantly looking around, as though he was expecting something to happen.

"What's happened with Rosbourne?"

I was glad that Ranger was asking that because to me it would be unfair if he continued as a police officer as though nothing had happened.

"Resigned. He got the same options as Morelli. I chased up with Morelli after what came up in the courtroom. He was all too keen to blame some woman named Natalie and that she'd been the one to egg him on. He took the option of being transferred to some shithole down near the Mexican border"

That was a relief to know but how was this man even here?

"How did you end up here in the apartment?"

Had he worked out who Natalie was, did he know what she had done, murdering Manning and Jayce?

"Emma. I spoke with her because I caught the case of her boyfriend being murdered. Emma came to me and told me that she was sure she knew who was responsible. The problem was that there was no evidence to tie Natalie to it. I made her promise that when she knew something that she had to get in touch with me, that taking in Natalie had to be done by the book. She called me and suggested I was here when you arrived and talked one of the Rangemen into letting me be witness to what was going to happen. You did a fine job, Miss Plum"

It still didn't explain why it was him who had shot Tali. Resting my head against Ranger's shoulder we watched as the men who I presume were part of the police department disappear, leaving us alone with the quietness that engulfed the apartment. There was still a slight smell of mace which had me knowing that I probably still looked like shit from getting it all over me as well.

"I think we need to go down to five, the men were worried about you so will want to see that you're okay"

I hadn't really thought about that and actually hesitated to move, which of course Ranger was quick to realize.

"What is it?"

He asked as he took hold of both of my hands, his finger's gently caressing the palms of my hand. That was when I realized that he'd replaced the ring back onto my finger, the ring that I'd handed to him before he'd left the Batcave. It wouldn't have been wise to have been wearing that for Tali to see it. God knows what she would have done, and it wouldn't have tied in with the story that we wanted everyone to know.

"Why did he shoot her?"

"She had a knife in one hand and a gun in the other and was intent on getting to you. Your shot clipped her, so I think that Jeffreys saw her as a threat"

I supposed that Tali aiming a gun at me and me not being armed might be a good enough reason. Hell, she was still trying to lie her way out when I was sure that Ranger and the other men were there. Maybe I had wanted her to be arrested and be punished for what she had done, but I wasn't stupid. That woman was totally deranged, knowing my luck she would probably have been deemed as mentally unfit to stand trial. Then it would only have been a question of time before she escaped and tried to get to me again. It did make me wonder about Joe though. Was what had happened to him enough?

"Could Joe still be a problem for me?"

I mean just because he'd been posted down near the Mexican border didn't mean that he couldn't still come back here, and he must be really pissed at me by now.

"No. I have some contacts down there. He'll either find the offer to move drugs across the border irresistible or he'll try to go up against the cartel down there. Either way he won't last long"

"That's devious"

Was my response, though I had a smile on my face as I said it. At least Joe's demise would be through choices that he would be making and to be honest the way that he had set me up it was satisfying to know that he'd be getting some of his own medicine.

"We'll know what he's up to. Are you okay with that?"


I had no hesitation in answering. I was surprised though as Carlos started to lead me out of the apartment, surely, I didn't have to be seen by all of the men, did I?

"Where are we going?"

It was only as we were in the elevator going down that Carlos gave me an answer.

"The apartment needs cleaning and airing to clear out all of the mace. Besides there's a little boy who is desperate to see you"

Mylo, there it was again, I'd totally forgotten about Mylo. The guilt must have shown on my face because I was soon being held tightly.

"He's keen to see you so that he can tell you how well Charlie is doing. It's been arranged for them to move out into their own apartment soon, somewhere close"

Two things struck me from what Carlos had said. Mylo's speech had obviously improved and Charlie must be a hell of a lot better. There was only one thing left that I wanted to ask.

"Err, Emma finishes with the army soon. Is there any chance of employing her here?"

My thoughts were that it would be nice to have a woman working here at Trenton. As Carlos stepped back from me and looked at me, I was suddenly concerned that I'd asked too much.

"A woman here at Rangeman Trenton. Haven't you had enough of Rangewomen yet?"

Okay, maybe I wasn't quite ready for that yet.

I spent the rest of day with Mylo and Charlie so pleased with the progress that they were both making. Mylo was such a happy kid that I was sure I'd miss him being around. Charlie, well he was talking as well and had better control of his movement but. Yeah, maybe that but could have been a problem in the past but not now. He had no memory of the week for when he was shot so he would never have been able to identify who had shot him and it was only because of what Mylo had told him that he had any idea of who I was.

Bobby had arranged everything for their new apartment, and it seemed that Hanley had been sorting out any legalities with regard to his employment and any compensation that would be due. There were only two things that I had left to do to enable me to move on and finally put the whole or this affair behind me.

The following day I was sat watching the children play, yeah, I was back at Play World but this time I was with Val for company. Mylo was happy on the slides and was actually chatting away with Mary Alice, maybe they would become friends in the future. I'd chosen this place as neutral territory to meet up with Val. It meant that we could talk while we watched the kids play, no way was I venturing out into the play area especially as my shoulder was still healing.

"Thanks for arranging this Steph. I was really worried that you'd hate me"

I suppose I could have, after all she hadn't exactly been a good older sister to me. I didn't though and felt that she deserved the chance to show me that we could get on as sisters should do.

"What happened is in the past and you were just a kid as well, but I don't think that I can forgive what our mother did to me or thought of me"

It wasn't just how she had treated me when I was little it was how she had turned on me after I'd gone missing. The words that she'd said both times in the courtroom still hurt, no she didn't deserve the chance to try and worm her way into my life, she'd made her choices and she'd have to just accept that I wanted nothing more to do with her. I didn't trust her.

"What about Dad? He's never tried to contact me and I know he wasn't at the trial"

Looking at Val as she said that I saw a sigh escape from her before she answered.

"He's made his choice Steph. He's always believed what Mum told him and maybe he has a better sense of denial than us two put together. What I found about how Mum had treated you, well it made me look at me and the girls. I was so influenced by her that it actually scared me. I want to be a good Mum to all of my girls regardless of how different they can be. I met up with Dad over coffee and told him how I felt. It was as if there was no life in him, no feelings or emotions. His response was that he an obligation to his wife, so he'd do anything to keep the peace with her. I haven't seen him since then and he hasn't tried to contact me"

That saddened me, okay, maybe he had always seemed so quiet as though he wasn't interested in me and maybe that answered my concern as to where he stood with me.

"They're moving. The Burg really went to town with them, that they were horrible parents. I don't know where they're going and as far as I'm concerned it'll be up to them if they ever want to see me or the kids"

Wow! I would never have expected that to happen. Hell, they'd lived there since being married but if the neighbors and gossipers were making their life hell then I suppose it was all they could do if they were adamant that they weren't in the wrong and would never change.

That answered my concern with my parents and to be honest I felt relieved that I wouldn't have the dilemma of facing either one of them. A chair moving next to me had me looking to my side to see my Grandma sitting down. She looked frail and older than when I'd last seen her.

"Grandma are you okay?"

I asked concerned that maybe the whole conflict between our parents was having an adverse effect on her health.

"I will be if my Granddaughters are happy"

Val and I smiled across at each other as she said that, I think both of us knowing that we'd be just fine.

As I hadn't even been back to my apartment since that eventful day of going to look for Charlie, I realized that I didn't want to. It was an ideal place for Grandma to have as my parent's house would be being sold. Grandma had tried to talk some sense into them but to no avail, so she'd started to separate her life from theirs. The one thing that I still had to resolve was what I was going to do. In some ways I missed doing the bounty hunting but had a feeling of unease. Turns out that Carlos had already thought through that, what a surprise.

A month later I was officially employed through Rangeman picking up medium level skips, the difference being that I now had a partner. Yeah, Carlos had taken on board what I'd said about Emma so not only was she my partner, but she was also encouraging both me and Lula to develop our skills. Lula was more than happy with that and felt more confident to bring in the low level skips and I felt more confident working with her.

Life was good, everything that I could have hoped for.