We got back into the car as I received a phone call from the Averys' neighbour. "They are there right now and it looks like they are getting ready to leave for a long time. They are packing suitcases into the truck."
"We will have a whole team of people there as soon as possible. Thank you for letting me know."
I hung up with her and called Ranger. "The traffickers' neighbour called. She said the Averys are going on a trip. They are packing a number of suitcases into a truck and are getting ready to leave. Any chance Rangeman can join the party?"
"Are you on your way there now?"
"Yes, I am. We should be there in five minutes."
"Wait for us before you go in. We'll be there in ten."
I gave him the address, then sped with Lula towards the Avery house. We arrived, parking two houses down the street, again with a good view of the house. The truck was still there, the back open, several suitcases loaded inside.
Lula and I sat for a minute or two, attention focused on the truck in front of us. The woman came out with another suitcase and packed it into the truck. There was no sign of the man. There was also no sign of the South American women. I guessed they were all at work. I wondered whether the Averys were planning on picking up the women or whether, in their attempt to flee from their charges, they were abandoning the women at their cleaning jobs.
Suddenly, through the open car window, I felt the muzzle of a gun pressed into my temple. "What?" I said. I turned and looked, seeing Blake Avery holding a gun to my head. Lula turned at my exclamation and her face went pale.
"Get out of the car, nice and slow. And then walk over to the truck. Tell me who you are on the way."
"You can't do that", said Lula. "She's entitled to find you. It was in your signed bond agree…" Just as Lula was finishing her sentence Lucille Avery reached in the car with a stun gun and zapped her. Lula went inert, slumped into her car seat.
"I saw you following me the other day. Who are you? Police? FBI? CIA?"
"Nothing that exotic. You signed a bond agreement with Vincent Plum Bail Bonds office. You missed your court date and I have come to take you into court to get your date rescheduled." He motioned for me to get out of the car. "No", I said. He moved his gun slightly to the side and shot the front windshield of my car. "Are you nuts?" I yelled out. "I have only had this car for two months."
"Give it up. It's an old car. The next shot will be for you if you don't get out." I hesitated. "Or, should I shoot your lovely companion?" He moved his gun so that it was aimed at Lula.
"What do you want with me?" I asked as I got out of the car. Blake motioned with his gun that I was supposed to walk towards the house. His wife walked in front of us.
"My wife and I are relocating to Canada to resume our operations. You will be our insurance policy. We will keep you as a hostage in case we have any problems getting across the border."
"What will you do with me when you get to Canada?"
"You will have served your purpose. We are kind people. We will buy you a ticket to send you home again."
I heard what they said, but I suspected I was not going to be given a ticket to come home again. I suspected the only place I was going to be given a ticket to would be the cemetery.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw three Rangeman vehicles drive down the street, stopping on the other side of the road near the base of the Avery driveway. Seconds later Ranger came roaring up in his Porsche Turbo. I heard the distinctive sound of his car as Avery walked me around the truck and into the house. Blake and his wife had not yet figured out that the Rangeman staff were there. I hoped that was a good thing.
Keeping them talking, I asked them "how will you get me into Canada? I don't have my passport on me." Lucille excused herself and went upstairs to finish the packing.
"We have a compartment underneath the truck. We have a driver coming here. He will drive us into Canada. When we are nearing the border, Lucille, you and I will get into the compartment underneath the truck. It will be a little squishy in there with three of us, but it should get us across the border safely. We will only need to be in the undercarriage compartment for half an hour to an hour."
"I am claustrophobic. I start to scream if I am in small spaces."
"I will stun you before we get in. Then you will be quiet."
"You have this all figured out. When are we leaving?"
"As soon as the driver gets here."
"Is the driver getting here soon?"
"He should be here in about half an hour."
"Does he know he is smuggling you into Canada?" Out of the corner of my eye I saw Ranger and his team surround the house. When everybody was in position, I saw Ranger put his gun back into his holster and come up to the door of the house.
"Yes. He is one of our primary drivers for our current smuggling operation. He also will be leaving with us and moving to Canada."
"Don't you need to get working visas or something to move to Canada?"
"We have lived outside the law here in Trenton for a long time. Do you think we cannot do the same thing and run our business out of Canada?"
"Are your girls going as well?" I didn't know what Ranger had planned, but I knew that the more I could keep Avery talking, the greater the chance he would not realize that Ranger was there until Ranger wanted him to know.
"No, they can keep their cleaning contracts. They can also have the house."
"Do they know you won't be picking them up tonight?"
"They will figure it out soon enough." There was a knock at the door. "Lucille!" he called. "Get the door!"
"I'm busy!" she called back. "You get the door!"
There was another knock at the door. Blake motioned for me to walk in front of him. I could feel the tip of his gun pointed at me. "Answer the door", he whispered in my ear.
I opened the door to see Ranger standing there. The Rangeman cars had mysteriously disappeared, and Ranger's car was parked behind mine. He glanced at me, then at Blake, then at the two of us. "I am sorry to bother you, but I parked my car behind that black car over there, and the car is leaking fluids all over the pavement. One of the neighbours said the owner of the car is in here?"
"I own the car", I said as I felt the gun jab me in warning.
"If you want, I know something about cars and I could look at it with you to determine what a mechanic needs to do to fix it."
"Thank you", I took one step forward before being pulled back by my ponytail. Blake's arm slipped around my neck into choking position, and his gun hand became visible momentarily as he repositioned the gun at my back.
"You aren't going anywhere", growled Blake in my ear. Looking at Ranger, he said "I will take care of her car. Thank you for letting us know. But my honey and I", and he kissed my temple and a shudder ripped through me, "are going upstairs right now, if you catch my drift." He walked backwards out of the doorframe.
I figured that I wouldn't get any better chance. I went limp in Blake's arms. The sudden dead weight surprised Blake. As I sank down towards the floor so that only his arm around my neck was holding me up, Blake's attention was diverted from Ranger to me, and his gun hand was jostled so that it was no longer aimed at me. Ranger whipped out his gun and stepped forward, pointing his gun at Blake's head.
Deadly quiet, Ranger said "you wouldn't be the first person I have shot and you should know that I always go for the kill shot. Now, let Stephanie go and put your hands in the air, nice and slow."
Blake hesitated, clearly undecided as to whether it would be better to take a stand or to give in.
"Miguel, is it all locked up nice and tight upstairs?"
"Yes, boss. The old lady is waiting for transport to the station."
"Thank you. Blake here is having problems letting Stephanie go. I don't blame him, but I think he needs a little help. Could you please disarm him and cuff him? Gun is in his right hand."
Miguel came around Blake and reached for the gun as Blake started to struggle. As soon as I felt the gun move away from me, I elbowed him in the solar plexus and stomped down hard on his instep. As he bent over double, Miguel removed the gun and cuffed him. "Good one, Steph", said Miguel as he led Blake from the doorstep over to an SUV which had magically reappeared. The car waited at the end of the driveway. Another SUV drove in behind it, ready for Lucille.
"Eduardo?" called out Ranger. "It's clear down here. You can bring down the woman now." He gathered me into a hug, and kissed the top of my head as I buried my face into his shoulder, smelling the scent of Bulgari Green. "You okay, Babe?"
"Yes. I'm safe. How's Lula?"
"She's fine. I left Hal in the car with her."
"Thank you. He shot my car!"
"I know. And for a brief millisecond I thought you had been shot, too. It was not a good millisecond."
"It's not fair. I went a whole two months without anything bad happening to it – as long as you don't count the carjackings. I was on a roll."
Ranger smiled, then gave me another kiss before stepping aside to let Eduardo and Lucille to walk past. "A whole two months!"
"Scoff all you want, but I think that must have been some sort of record for me."
"I don't think this one counts. Your car hasn't been incapacitated. Just damaged. And it is damage that is quite easy to repair. I know it doesn't count in the guys' pool. I don't know if it counts in the bail bond office's pool."
"I had better give a report to the neighbour and a thank you for calling us", I said. I started towards the neighbour's house, closely followed by Ranger.
I knocked on the neighbour's door. "I watched the whole thing from the window", she said as she answered the door. "It was pretty scary when they took you into the house and I was just about to call the police when all the men in black showed up. Did I do the right thing by not calling?"
"It was neither here nor there. The men in black are good at their job."
"And when I saw your man there walk up to the door, as easy as you please, I didn't know what would happen."
"Neither did we", I said with a smile.
"Isn't that something. We have a neighbourhood watch meeting tonight and I am going to have such a great story for everyone. Where did you say you were taking the Averys?"
"They will be taken to jail. I am not sure if they are going to be transported by the Rangeman team or the police. The police have been called and should be here any minute."
"Will they stay in jail?"
"I don't know. They may get released on a bond again, but I doubt it considering we caught them as they were preparing to flee the country."
"Wow! I have so much to tell tonight."
I could hear the police coming down the street. "The police are here now, and we need to give our statements. They may want a statement from you as well. Thank you for your help today."
Thomas Nilchinni and Andrea Antone were the first responders, followed closely by Morelli. "Getting into trouble again, Cupcake?" Morelli said as he jogged over to Ranger and me. He reached us and pulled me into a hug. He gave me a kiss on the head and held me tight for a minute or two, murmuring "you're safe". Then, pulling away, he turned all cop again and said "tell me what happened."
So I told Morelli about the crime that they were originally arrested for, the surveillance and the car chase, the help offered by the neighbour. As I mentioned the neighbour, Morelli, Ranger and I looked up at the neighbour's house. The neighbour was still standing at the doorway. She waved to us when she saw us looking at her. I waved back.
I then told him of coming to the house and seeing the Averys getting ready to leave. I told him of the gunshot to my car – "and I've only had this car for two months!" – at which point Morelli smiled. "Cheer up. I don't think this counts as an incapacitation for the police pool."
"The police have a pool as well?"
"Hell, yeah. When you are knee deep in drug dealers, murders and human traffickers, it is nice to have something fun to do."
"Did you place a bet?" I asked suspiciously.
"No. I'm not stupid." He smiled. "I know that you never do what I expect. So what happened next?"
I told him about getting taken at gunpoint into the house and how Avery told me that he was taking me to Canada as insurance to help him get across the border. Morelli turned white at that, and Ranger turned very still. I stopped for a second, primarily to give the guys a couple of seconds to get control of themselves. Morelli put his hand on my back and rubbed up and down my spine, reassuring himself that I was all right.
I then continued the story. I told of the Rangeman team arriving, and Ranger coming to the door. I told of what was said, my fake fainting spell, and the takedown that ensued. Then I told him about the two skips sitting separated in the two cars and the driver that was due to arrive any minute.
"Get rid of the cars, everyone", yelled out Morelli. "We have a potential third person scheduled to show up soon."
Immediately, everyone sprang to attention and moved the cars. The two squad cars were moved a block down the street, Morelli moved his car behind Ranger's, and the Rangeman team moved their cars a block up the street. Morelli, Ranger and I stood in the shade of a tree near our cars. Morelli inspected the damage to my car as we waited for the driver to show up. "How did this happen again?" Morelli asked.
"I was waiting for Rangeman to show up, doing surveillance with Lula, when I felt a gun pressed into my head through the open window. I turned to look, and it was Blake Avery. Lula turned to look and we complained. Lucille Avery popped up beside Lula and stunned her. I complained and Blake said that I needed to get out of car. I refused. He shot the windshield and said the next shot would be at Lula if I did not get out of the car. He looked crazy enough to do it, so I got out of the car. I was then taken at gunpoint into the house, and the rest you know."
Morelli then turned to Ranger, and asked him for his version of the story. Ranger told him about arriving and seeing the shot in the car. Lula was just coming to and was frantic that she could not see me. He told Morelli about sending Ramon and Manuel to guard the back door, Eduardo and Miguel to climb in an upper window, Hal to sit with Lula, and Hector to guard their truck. He then talked about knocking on the door and how he found me. "He had Stephanie in front of him, and she was obviously being held against her will. When I got her agreement to come away with me, he grabbed her by the neck and I was able to see he had a gun when he readjusted it. Then he started walking backwards, pulling Stephanie by the neck. She pretended to faint, and the sudden off-balance of weight gave me a chance to train a gun on him. By the time he recovered from her ploy, she had disabled him and Miguel was there to disarm him. If it were not for Stephanie's quick thinking, this could have had a completely different ending to the story."
A taxicab drove up to the Avery house and an older gentleman, stooped in shoulder and gray in hair, got out with his luggage. He paid the driver and brought his luggage up to the open truck. He loaded in his suitcases, then turned to walk towards the front door of the house. Hal materialized beside the man and pretended to be an alternate driver, trying to capture some incriminating evidence. "What are you doing putting your stuff on the truck?" he said. "Only the Avery suitcases and my suitcase are supposed to go on the truck. I didn't agree to drive anyone other than the Averys over the border."
Nilchinni and Antone were standing within listening distance, but out of sight, and could hear the driver respond with "you aren't driving them over the border. I am always the driver. I have driven more immigrants over the border in the past year alone then you have driven over the border in your lifetime. I am scheduled to take the Averys into Canada, and I am going with them. You need to step aside, son." He pulled out a gun and started to aim it at Hal.
With lightning speed, Hal reached out and grabbed the driver's gun arm, squeezed hard and twisted until the man dropped the gun. He then spun the man around and pressed his face into the side of the truck and cuffed him. It happened so fast that the man hardly knew what was happening until it was over. "Threat neutralized", called out Hal as Antone and Nilchinni came out of hiding to help and we walked over to join them.
"We can take his statement at the precinct. Antone and Nilchinni, you take the driver in and book him on human trafficking charges." Turning to Ranger, Morelli said "if you can spare the Rangeman staff, would they mind taking the Averys in?"
"I will stay here and do my cop stuff. I want to talk to the neighbour. Who is taking Lula back to the bonds office?"
"I have three staff cars here. Hector can take Lula, Miguel and Eduardo can take Lucille Avery, and Ramon and Manuel can take Blake Avery. Hal can drive Stephanie's car to the auto glass place to get her windshield replaced. Miguel and Eduardo can take Stephanie's body receipt in to Vinnie's after dropping off the Averys, then pick up Hal on the way back to Rangeman. If you don't need us, I will take Stephanie back to the office. We have a pizza party to go to."