Vinnie had to be going insane.
I looked at my accordion file again, and tried to stuff another case file inside. There was no room. With three cases left over from last week, four from yesterday and the two that I just picked up, I was going to be busy. Nine skips were a lot to handle.
My name is Stephanie Plum, and I am a bounty hunter. I work part-time for my cousin, Vinnie, at the Vincent Plum Bail Bonds office. Vinnie provides a service to the felons of Trenton. When felons are assigned a trial date, they can either wait for their date to come up in jail, or they can pay bail and walk free until their court date. The bond will be returned to them when they show up for court.
Many felons do not have the money to pay this bond, however. That is where Vinnie comes in. For the price of fifteen percent of the bond and the exchange of some collateral, Vinnie will loan the felon the money to make bail. When the accused shows up for their court date, the court returns the bail bond to Vinnie and Vinnie returns the collateral to the felon. He keeps the fifteen percent as his transaction fee.
I don’t have anything to do with that part of the business. I come into play when the felon decides not to show up for his or her court date. My job is to find them, haul them back into the system, and return them to jail to start the whole process again. The felons would then be assigned another court date and bail would be set for a higher amount.
When I return the felon to the system, Vinnie pays me ten percent of the price of the bond and keeps the remaining five percent as his transaction fee. Good deal for me, as long as I can find them. Bad deal if I can’t find them, or if I can’t bring them in. And since there is no base pay, my salary is totally dependent upon my questionable ability to bring in skips. I’m not the best bounty hunter in the world. Or even in Trenton, if truth be told.
Recently, I started working part-time for my good friend, Ranger. Ricardo Carlos Manoso, aka Ranger, is the owner of the ultra-elite security company called Rangeman. With offices located in Trenton and Miami, Rangeman offers the best of personal security services to the wealthy and well-known. I am the company researcher for the Trenton office. Using extremely invasive search engines and getting information ranging from how old you were when you were toilet trained to the last time you filled your car with gas, I search out the background and private secrets of individuals and corporations, summarizing the information and any concerns that I may have into a report. This is used by staff when they are setting up a new security system, when an existing client wants a security check done on someone, or when Sales is trying to target a sales pitch. Spending so much time in front of the computer is boring and puts my feet to sleep – and often the rest of me as well – but it provides income stability, gives me benefits, and is safe. Having recently gone through some unsafe periods in my life, there is no downplaying the importance of security.
Lula came in the office. “It’s hot out today. It’s going to be a real steamer.” Summer in New Jersey is always a steamer, and this summer was proving to be no exception. “I think today would be a good day to go to the beach.” Lula, the person responsible for the bail bonds filing, acted as my bounty hunter assistant more than she did as a file clerk. That was probably good, as she was the worst file clerk in the whole world. Come to think of it, she wasn’t much better as a bounty hunter. I think she was probably much more successful in her former profession – a ‘ho – but she gave up that lifestyle when she was brutally assaulted a few years ago. She did not, however, give up the wardrobe and now that it was hot, her teeny, tiny spandex tops and skirts showed off her largeness to the extreme. Simply put, there was too much Lula and not enough fabric to go around.
Lula had a larger than life personality with the makeup and hair to match. A couple of inches shorter than my 5’7” frame, several pounds heavier, many cup sizes larger, everything about Lula screamed “look at me”. She had brown skin, today her hair was orange to match her belly-baring day-glo orange top, jean cut-off shorts and orange flip-flops. On most people the look would be trashy. On Lula, it somehow works.
I am downright staid in comparison. Instead of a beautiful chocolate colour, my skin is a washed out pale white. Instead of warm brown eyes, my eyes are a boring blue. And instead of vibrant and ever changing hair colour, my hair is plain brown shoulder-length curls typically pulled back in a ponytail. Add in my average body shape and conservative clothing choices, I fade into the background when Lula is around. I don’t mind this. I am happy to let her take the limelight.
“It’s going to be a while before we go to the beach. We’ve got too much to do. When does Connie get back from her cousin’s wedding?” I asked. The office manager, Connie Rosolli, took the week off work to attend the wedding in Rochester. This left Lula in charge of the office, which meant that I was flying solo in skip chasing.
“Two more days. Vinnie will be glad to have her back. He’s been having to do all the bonding out of felons. He’s not too impressed with having to work.” Vinnie is the namesake of the bond office. A slimy sexual deviant, he looks like a weasel, acts like a weasel, and much like a weasel, has the thorough understanding of the depraved necessary to be an excellent bondsman. He typically spends most of his time in the office looking at porn sites and introducing Mr. Hand to Mr. Willy. He frequently deviates from regular porn to also watch child porn and animal porn. When his hand gets tired from jerking off, he spends his time on gambling websites. As I said, he acts like a weasel – no offence to weasels – and has an intimate understanding of the unsavory and immoral.
“I have a problem”, I said, slapping my accordion file down on the desk. “I can’t even fit all the files in the accordion file. What is Vinnie doing?”
“He seems to have lost his touch in deciding who he is going to bond out, that’s for sure”, agreed Lula.
“The last few weeks have been brutal trying to keep up with Vinnie’s skips, but this week upcoming is going to be particularly difficult.”
“Don’t complain to him. He will bring in Joyce again.” Joyce is my childhood nemesis, another sexual deviant who gets along well with Vinnie. She has worked in the past for Vinnie as a bounty hunter. She has only caught someone once – and that was with my help – but she has interfered several times with my own captures, resulting in the skip getting away. “She was in here yesterday. She was wearing her schoolgirl outfit.” Vinnie hooks up with Joyce when his hand gets tired. His wife doesn’t know or doesn’t care. I have never been able to figure out which.
“Trust me. I don’t want to do anything which will cause Vinnie to bring in Joyce. I hate that woman.”
“After she shagged your ex-husband, I don’t blame you.” I was married for about ten minutes in a past life to Dickie Orr. The marriage ended when I walked in on the Dick with Joyce. It was the shortest marriage in Burg history – the community in which Joyce, Dickie and I grew up – and is still talked about to this day.
“She actually did me a favour. I wouldn’t tell her that, though. I found out later that Joyce wasn’t the only woman he was shagging.”
“You did well to get away from him”, Lula agreed.
“I did.” I pulled out all nine case files. “There is a wide variety of cases here, and some for sure I would like you there to help me with them.” I opened up the first file. “This skip, Marianne Browne, stole credit card info by working as a cashier and taking photos of the front and backs of credit cards. She then used the information to do online purchasing of items. She racked up thousands of dollars of clothing, household items and gifts before she was caught. Her house was crammed with stuff that she purchased on-line.”
“She sounds like she could be smart, but not particularly violent. She could be a good one to go after by yourself.”
“She could. This skip”, I said, picking up the second file, “is not particularly smart. He went into a gas station with the intent to rob it. However, the gas station was busy and he did not want to appear suspicious. He filled his time while he waited for the store to empty by filling out a job application. Unfortunately for him, he used his real name. The police picked him up within the hour.”
“He might have just forgot his court date. He doesn’t sound particularly smart.”
I put that file down and picked up the third. “This is another dumb crook story. I remember Morelli telling me about this when it happened.” Morelli was my ex-boyfriend who would like to still be my boyfriend. He happens to be a dedicated and extremely good cop working for the Trenton Police Department. “The felon, Lucas Cooper, was an enterprising sort of person. He decided that he would be able to increase his sales of various illegal narcotics by cold calling residents. Unfortunately for him, he called Morelli. Morelli agreed to buy some crack and arranged to meet him at a local park. When Lucas handed over the drugs, Morelli arrested him. It was pretty funny at the time.”
“Morelli has to like it when the drug dealers come knocking on his door.”
“Almost literally.” I picked up the fourth file. “Mila Madison. She showed up for her driving test drunk. I guess she was trying to smooth the nerves out. The assessor had her drive into the police parking lot to show her skills at parking and, while she was parked, the assessor walked into the police station to request a sobriety test to be done on the student driver. She was charged with DUI on the spot.”
“Did she get her licence?” asked Lula.
“Nope, she did not.”
“So she has a DUI and no licence? That’s pretty sad.”
“Tell me about it. The fifth here”, I said as I put down the file and picked up another one, “is for disturbing the peace. A lady, Vivian Slater, phoned the police department repeatedly to complain about a dog barking. She said she was trying to sleep and the dog continued to bark. After several of the neighbours also called to report the disturbance, police officers were dispatched to the home. They found that it was the woman’s own dog. She had locked it out, had forgotten that her dog was in the backyard and was complaining about her own dog. The police wrote her a citation for disturbing the peace.”
“How stupid would you feel if that was you?”
“Reporting on yourself? Pretty stupid. This next file, for Vance Deville, is for someone who was transporting dynamite. That in itself is not a crime unless it goes off and what did it do? It went ka-boom.”
“Was Deville all right?”
“I don’t know. The file doesn’t say, but he has to be still alive if he is wanted for skipping bail. The seventh case is for Jonathan Jones. He lied in court, giving false evidence in a rape case, giving a false alibi for the rapist. He was caught in the lie, and was arrested as a result.”
“Perjury is a terrible thing. I guess he don’t believe in no Bible.”
“I guess not. The next case is for Isaac Wang. We brought him in a few weeks ago and a few weeks before that, and he has failed to show again at court. I don’t know if you remember him. He was caught selling black market copies of movies. He had a vast number of boxes of movies at his house, and even more on his computer. When the police came to his house to talk to him, he was in the process of making disks to sell.”
“I remember him. Nice guy. He offered us whatever movie we wanted for free if we just let him go.”
“And I remember that you were going to take him up on it.”
“Hey! He had some really good movies there! Some of them were still in the theatres”, she said defensively.
“The last file is for Nolan Nyetta. This is a high bond. This guy is sick. Nolan has raped three little girls, giving them AIDS in the process.”
“Ah, the virgin cure.”
“The virgin cure is the myth that having sex with a virgin will ‘cure’ a man by cleansing him from any kind of sexually transmitted infection.”
“And there are men who actually believe this to be true?” I was horrified.
“Yes. Sick, isn’t it? There are some little girls getting up in the morning, their biggest consideration being who they are going to play Barbies with, not knowing that by the end of the day they will be infected with a terrible disease, solely because they are virgins. As a ‘ho, you always had to be careful about STIs. I never had one, but that was because I insisted on condom use and I got tested regularly. Part of the virgin cure myth says that the man can’t use a condom. He has to dip his wick without covering up. Those little girls don’t stand a chance. The fact that Nyetta has not shown up in court makes me wonder if he is still out there raping little girls. You might want to take Ranger on that one. We want that guy caught right away. I wouldn’t want to take the chance that it gets messed up.”
“You think I would mess it up?”
“Not purposely. Sometimes you have bad luck.”
“Hunh.” But really, what could I say to that? She was right. Sometimes I did have bad luck.
“Besides, if you take me I might purposely – by accident, of course – shoot him.”