I was waiting with my last bottle of Jack and my clipboard beside Ranger’s Cayenne when he came down. He had taken off his gun at his hip, but I knew that he was still dressed. He would be wearing a gun at his ankle as well as a knife somewhere on his body. It was rare that Ranger was ever fully naked, reserved for date nights, personal time with me and time spent with his family.
I put my props in the car, and got in beside Ranger. “Refresh me on this skip?” he asked.
“Gianna Bermley has a one-year old daughter. Gianna took a taxi to the local convenience store to get some smokes and beers, taking her daughter with her. She left her daughter in the car with the meter running, went inside the convenience store and, taking out a gun that she had hidden in her purse, held up the store. She might have been successful if it wasn’t for the fact that the convenience store employee, who was working cash that night, was a former marine. He captured Gianna by disarming her then holding her still. Records show that Gianna swore up a blue streak and cried foul, saying that her daughter was in the cab and needed to go home to bed. Instead of getting herself let go the way she intended, the employee called the police. The taxi was still waiting, meter running, when the police showed up a few minutes later. They put the toddler into Child Protective Services, where the toddler is going to remain until her mother is either cleared of all charges or convicted. She said she needed the money from the theft to pay for the cab fare.”
“Hopefully it is. I am ready for some Mexican food.”
Ranger parked a couple of house down the street from the row house in the Burg. The house was uncomfortably close to my parents’ house, and I could only hope that I did not see anyone from the neighbourhood that I knew. I did not want my cover blown before we were able to capture Gianna.
I rang the doorbell, and Gianna came running to the door, asking us through the screen to not wake the baby. I looked at Ranger with an “oh, shit” look on my face. Ranger also did not look happy.
When Gianna opened the door, I went through my spiel, confirming that Gianna was Gianna by her driver’s licence and getting her to sign the form that I had created. Then, when Gianna reached for the bottle, Ranger slapped cuffs on her. “What is this?” she said, beginning to struggle.
“Bond enforcement”, I said. “You missed your court date a week ago and you need to go back into the courts to reschedule.”
“I can’t do that. I am looking after my neighbour’s daughter. She’s sleeping upstairs and I can’t leave her.”
“I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to find someone else to look after the baby while you’re going through the bonding process again.”
“I can’t do that. I have to look after the baby.”
“Perhaps you can call your neighbour and let her know that you’re not available to look after her baby any longer?”
“I can’t do that.”
“Why is that?”
“My neighbour is dead.”
“I don’t understand. When did your neighbour die?”
“About a few weeks ago. I promised to look after her baby no matter what, and then she died in a car accident.”
I went upstairs and lifted a sleeping baby gently into my arms. I walked downstairs. “Is this your neighbour’s baby?” I asked.
“Yes, she is.”
“What is her name?”
“Why haven’t you handed the baby over to her guardians? Her godparents must be frantic not knowing what is happening to Alexandria.”
“Evie asked me to take care of her daughter while she was gone and I promised that I would.”
“I am sure that you will, but she is not your responsibility. Alexandria needs to go to her godparents for them to take care of her, just like her parents wanted.”
“Her mother asked me to look after the baby. Her mother was my friend and I want to do right by her.”
“What about the baby’s father? Did he also die in the car accident?”
“No, but he was a jerk. I don’t want the baby going to him.”
“Why was he a jerk?”
“He left my friend and made her cry.”
“I’m sorry, but no matter what you think about the father, he is the baby’s father and has the right to parent his daughter.”
I turned to Ranger. “I suspect that, since there is a baby involved, it would be better to have the police do the capture. Child Protective Services are going to need to be called. There is something hinky going on.”
I called dispatch. “I have a skip that needs to be picked up, but I also have a baby that needs to be put into Protective Services as well as a bit of a mystery. Would you mind sending a detective out to the house?” I asked.
After receiving assurances that the police were on their way, I hung up. The baby woke up and started rooting around at my chest. “Are you hungry, little one? Do you already have bottles made up for the baby?” I asked.
“Yes, I do, in the fridge”, said Gianna.
I got out a bottle and warmed it in the microwave for a few seconds. I shook the mixture and, testing it upon my wrist to find that it was the proper temperature, I started feeding the baby. Ranger’s eyes grew dark as he watched me.
Partway through the bottle the baby started to fuss. I put her over my shoulder and burped her, then started feeding her again. Once again, I was thankful for the time I had spent with Val’s kids and my experience in looking after them.
Morelli came to the door and Ranger let him in. His eyes turned soft as he looked at me feeding the baby. I got up to join the two of them at the side of the room, still feeding the infant.
“Something seems off. She said that her friend died in a car accident recently and, when the mother left the baby with her, the mother asked Gianna to look after Alexandria. Gianna does not want to hand over the child to the father for care and seems to get quite upset when I suggest that the father should receive the infant. What is your read on the situation, Ranger?”
“I agree with you, Babe. Something seems off.”
“Okay.” Morelli typed in a request for more information and sent a text to the precinct. “I have Child Protective Services coming regardless of what I find out. They should be here soon. I will talk to her now, and I would appreciate it if you could stick around for a little bit, at least until Child Protective Services shows up.”
“Sure. No problem.”
We walked over to Gianna. “I was just telling Officer Morelli about Alexandria. How long have you been looking after her?”
“Just a few weeks. Evie left her in my care before she passed away. She would want me to look out for her.”
“Do you have the name of her father?” asked Morelli.
“Bob. His name is Bob.”
“Does he have a last name?”
“Yes, I’m sure he does. I don’t know what it is though.”
“What about your friend? What was her last name?”
“Williams. Her last name was Williams.”
“So the baby’s name is Alexandria Williams?”
“Yes, she is.”
“She isn’t your baby to look after. She is her father’s baby to look after or, if he is unavailable, her godparents’ baby to look after.” Morelli typed in a text to the precinct asking for information on Bob Williams and whether he had reported a missing baby. “Were Evie and Bob living together when Evie died?”
“Yes, they were.”
“That baby is Bob’s, not yours.”
“EVIE GAVE HER TO ME!” Her yelling woke the sleeping baby up, and the baby started to cry. “Let me have Alexandria. You’re not taking care of her right.”
“You can’t hold Alexandria right now, as your wrists have been cuffed. Don’t worry, I will look after her for the time being”, I said. I put the baby over my shoulder and burped her, then left her there as I stood and swayed to some imaginary music. The baby settled as I looked up to see both Ranger and Morelli looking at me, a soft glow in their eyes.
Morelli’s phone pinged and thankfully broke the mood. He read the text, then stood Gianna up. “I am transferring custody of Gianna over to me”, he said to us. “Gianna Bermley, I am arresting you for the kidnapping of Alexandria Williams. You have the right to remain silent…” he said as he led her out of the room.
“NO! Don’t take her away from me. I have to protect her, take care of her. I promised Evie”, we could hear as she walked down the hall to the front door.
I left the baby, finally settled, on my shoulder and sat down. “I don’t know what was going through her mind to think that Evie’s request for her to look after Alexandria for a couple of hours was the same thing as raising a child for the rest of her life.”
Morelli came back into the house. “Gianna is in the back of my car. Protective Services just arrived. Thank you for your help tonight. Because of you, we have found a missing child.”
“Thank the Jack Daniel’s company. It was their bottle of Jack that enabled the capture. Do you think she is going to get out on bail?”
“No, I don’t. I would be shocked if she is released again. Now, come through and hand over the baby while I give final instructions to the uniforms.” I got up and walked out with the baby to meet Angela Tanner, a late middle-aged, cuddly looking, gray-haired woman. She had a huge smile on her face as she took the little baby from my arms.
“There are additional bottles that have already been made up in the fridge, and I saw some jars of baby food in there as well. Is she even old enough to eat baby food?”
“No, she isn’t. However, it won’t kill her. It would just likely give her a tummy ache.” The baby began to fuss and Angela put the little baby up on her shoulder and started to sway. “You are good at soothing little babies. Have you ever thought about becoming a foster mom?”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve had more experience with babies today than I’ve had in my whole life put together.”
“You didn’t like cuddling with the baby?” asked Morelli, looking disappointed. At the time that we had broken up two months ago, Morelli had been making noises about having children with me. One of the reasons we broke up was a difference of opinion in how we wanted to live our lives. I didn’t want and do not want to have children.
“You’d have to be made of stone to not like cuddling with a baby”, I said. “But there is a whole lot more to having children than cuddling with babies, and it is all that other stuff that makes me not interested in having my own kids.” Morelli looked disappointed. “Ranger and I are going into the station to pick up my body receipt. See you around?”
“Absolutely. I still want to hear about your captures today.”
“I will call you tomorrow. Perhaps we can meet over morning coffee so that I can tell you about them.” Morelli started looking hopeful again. “We need to go. After getting our body receipt, we are going out for Mexican.” Morelli’s face fell into the same disappointed expression as mine when I look in the cupboard and fail to see any dessert. Ranger and I turned and left.