I live on the second floor in a bare-bones apartment building about ten minutes away from the Rangeman building. It is also ten minutes from the bonds office and ten minutes from my parents' house – less if I am late for dinner. If my building was a movie, it would be a low budget, B-grade film. The appliances and the bathroom décor are from the seventies, which is a coincidence because most of the residents are seventy or older. It lacks many of the amenities of a much larger building, but has plenty of parking and an elevator. An added bonus are my fellow dwellers. They are fun, friendly, happy to be alive, and remarkably easygoing about my many mishaps. In fact, I suspect that my frequent break-ins, murders – not all done by me – and fire bombings just serve to spice up the residents' lives. At least, that is what I keep telling myself.
"Hey, chicky, it's been too quiet. I haven't seen you around", said Mr. Wolenski as he sat on his walker just outside the main doors to the building, watching the world go by and enjoying the hot summer sun. "Now that I see your hamster cage, I hope this means you will be moving back into your apartment."
"I am", I confirmed.
"We were all worried about you when we didn't see you for a while."
"I was fine. I was just staying with a friend. Things were getting a little hairy."
"It is nice to have you back."
"Thanks, Mr. Wolenski." I went up to him and kissed his cheek. "It is nice to be back."
Ranger and I went inside and got on the elevator. Mrs. Bestler was working the buttons. She is bored stiff and likes to play elevator operator in her spare time. She has a lot of spare time and I frequently see her. "Hello, Stephanie. I haven't seen you for a while. We were worried about you. Your apartment has been quiet. I try to walk past it every day to make sure your door is locked up all nice and tight."
"Thank you for doing that. It is nice to know I have a group of people in the building who look out for me."
"Where have you been?" she asked, moving her dentures around in her mouth and looking forward to getting a piece of juicy gossip to pass on to the other residents.
"I have been staying with a friend. I had a secret admirer who was harassing me and I wanted to lay low for a while."
"Is this your friend?" asked Mrs. Bestler, eyeing Ranger up and down like he was a particularly succulent piece of meat.
"Yes, he is."
"I would stay with him, too." She whispered to me, "he is a beefcake!"
"I know", I whispered back. "But I'm trying not to let him know that in case it goes to his head." I smiled and I could see out of the corner of my eye that Ranger was thinking about smiling as well. The elevator doors opened up on my floor, and Ranger and I walked down to my apartment. I unlocked and opened the door, and took in the quiet stillness of the place before I stepped inside. Ranger put my attack hamster, Rex, on my kitchen counter and I dropped my duffel bag in my bedroom. I turned to walk back out into the living room, but Ranger was right behind me blocking my way. "Remember that you are always welcome at my place, Babe, in case things ever get a little hairy again." He gave me a deep kiss that, once our tongues touched, had me reconsidering my decision to move back into my own place.
After a few minutes, he pulled away. "Hector will be here soon."
My heart pumping, my pulse racing and my breath coming in little gasps, I said "Fast is good. I can be fast."
His hand came up to brush against my breast. "No. The next time we make love it will be slow and sensual." I gulped. I knew what slow and sensual felt like, and it felt pretty darn fantastic. I gave him another kiss to try to make him change his mind. He pulled away. "Slow and sensual, Babe", he said. "Slow and sensual."
There was a knock at the door and Ranger immediately turned still, hyperaware of his surroundings. I gave Ranger a quick kiss, then went to let Hector in.
Knowing that Hector scared me – it is the teardrop tattoos of his kill marks under his eyes that got me worried – Ranger stayed with Hector while he installed a video camera on my fire escape. Since three is a crowd, I drove down to the bonds office. Parking in the rear parking lot, I entered the building through the back doors. "Hey, girlfriend", I said to Lula. Lula is the office file clerk who spends more time chasing skips with me than she does filing in the office. It is just as well. She is the worst file clerk ever. She is not much better as a bounty hunter. She is actually a retired 'ho. She still has the wardrobe of a hooker and, judging by the interest we get when we are chasing skips, I imagine she was a much better 'ho than she is a skip chaser. She has permanently tanned skin, is well into the plus sizes in clothing although she wears only too-small spandex, and her hair is as loud as her personality. I spend a lot of time with Lula. She is a good friend, although she is also one of my key impediments to my ability to blend in. Everybody notices you when Lula is around.
"Connie is out at the courthouse bonding out Shirleen Brown again, and Vinnie is at home with Lucille." I raised my eyes at this. Vinnie is never home with his wife if he can avoid it. Vinnie looks like a weasel, has the personality of a rat, and is a sexual deviant who happens to be an excellent bondsman. An oversexed little man-slut who will have sex with anybody and anything. I can say all that since he is my cousin.
Vinnie isn't known for spending time at home. Quality time for him is spent away from his wife as much as possible. The last time he went on vacation with Lucille he spent most of the vacation in the casino, Lucille spent most of the vacation on the beach and, according to Vinnie, it was his best vacation ever. I don't know what Lucille thought.
"Do we know why Vinnie has decided to spend some time with Lucille?"
"No, not exactly. But I think she found out about the duck and he is trying to mend fences." It is purported that Vinnie once had a sexual relationship with a duck. While I don't know if that is true – or even if it is possible – I do know for certain that he did have a relationship with a dog.
I took the files from my basket and looked over the three that were outstanding. "The first is for Shauna Cition. She was arrested on a drug possession charge when she purchased some bad weed and decided to report the poor quality of the weed to the police. She wanted her dealer arrested for false advertising. The police came to inspect the evidence and arrested her on the spot."
"She sounds kind of dumb. She would be a good one to go after."
"Listen to the other two before you decide. The second file, Samuel Heskell, was arrested for reproductive sabotage. He encouraged his girlfriend to have sex. She agreed on the condition that he wear a condom. He decided he wanted her to have his baby, so he poked holes in the condom. Unfortunately he had an STI which he gave to her. He is wanted on sexual assault charges."
Lula's eyes were bugging out of her head. "He tampered with the condom?" she said, horrified. "That is why you always have to carry your own. Let's go get that nasty bastard."
"What about the third? The last file is for duelling."
"That's a charge you don't hear of very often."
"No, I don't think I have heard of it ever before. When our skip, Elijah Braden, challenged his sister's suitor to a duel, the sister called the cops. I guess she didn't know that duelling is a punishable offence. Or, she didn't care. Both her brother and her suitor are still alive."
"Was that a duel with swords? Because that would be kind of hot, like the Three Musketeers."
"It doesn't say, but I imagine that it was more of a duel with guns. You know, stand with your back to the other guy's back and each walk ten paces away, then turn and try to shoot the crap out of the other person. At least, that is how they do it in the movies."
"Hmm. Dumb, dumber and dumbest. It's hard to pick which file would be the best to do first. Do you want to pick them out of a hat, or do you want to go by alphabetical order this time?"
"Let's do alphabetical order by last name", I said. I looked at the files and rearranged them in order. Duelling, drug possession, then reproductive sabotage. It would be a full day.
I reopened the duelling file. Elijah Braden lived with his sister and mother in the projects and was listed as having a job as the stock boy at the local Shop 'n Bag. I phoned the store and found that he was not scheduled to work until six the next morning. Lula and I locked up the office and headed off to the projects.
We parked our car two houses down the street from the Braden residence, got out of the car and suited up. I tucked my cuffs in the back of my waistband of my jeans, activated my pepper spray and tucked it in my front pocket, and moved my gun to the top of my bag. I was set. I looked over at Lula. She was tucking her gun in her waistband at the small of her back, putting her stun gun in her front pocket and placing the head-bashing Maglite in her purse.
"This will be a quiet takedown", I said. "No head-bashing or shooting will be required."
"Yeah, I know that", said Lula. She slung her full purse over her shoulder and walked up to the front door. I followed behind, shaking my head.
Lula rang the doorbell and, when the door opened, I asked to speak to Elijah. "He is in the shower at the moment", a teenaged girl said.
"We need to talk to him. We can wait until he is finished." When she hesitated, I said "we can wait outside. We just want to talk to him for a minute or two."
She closed the screen door and locked it, leaving the main door open, and ran up the stairs to bathroom calling Elijah's name. Lula and I stood at the door, listening to the conversation between the sister and brother as they talked over the shower and through the bathroom door. Finally, Elijah finished showering, dressed and walked down the stairs.
I introduced ourselves and explained why we were there, showing my fake badge and handing him one of my real business cards.
"I can't go to jail. I will be leaving my sister all alone and she needs me to protect her."
"This trip isn't taking you to jail. This trip to the precinct is for you to get your court date rescheduled. Right now you are a wanted fugitive and bounty hunters, the bonds office, and police are all looking for you. By getting your court date rescheduled you will no longer be a fugitive and no one will care where you are. You will be better able to safeguard your sister."
Elijah thought for a moment, then agreed. "All I want to do is protect her. She looks too old for her age and is getting far too much attention from guys. This last one was the final straw. He is twenty-one, for Christ's sake. My sister is fourteen. He was all swagger, thinking himself the best thing since sliced bread."
"That's not cool", Lula said to the girl. "Do you realize, when you were born he was seven years old? He was in grade three before you could even talk. That is kind of sick when you think about it."
"But he is so handsome and wealthy." Elijah's sister smiled and sighed.
"Yeah, in a drug dealing sort of way", said Elijah in disgust. "Do you see why I need to be here to protect her?" he said, turning to us.
"I am sure they will be lenient on you when you go to court based on what you have told us. However, the longer you try to avoid court the worse it will look for you. You need to get rescheduled. You aren't due at work until tomorrow. Why don't I take you in now so that you can get it over with and enjoy the rest of your day off?" Elijah looked unconvinced. "Think of it this way", I said, "do you want your sister saying that she has a brother who was protecting her and is awaiting his fair trial, or do you want your sister saying she has a brother who is a wanted fugitive?"
He turned to his sister and gave her a hug. "Be good while I am at the police station. I will be back as soon as I can be. And if that cradle-robbing bastard comes around again, throw him out on his ear. Because if I find out he has made advances on you again, there will be no telling what I will do. I would be facing a much stiffer charge than simple duelling."
Elijah's sister swallowed hard, then gave her brother a hug and kiss. "I will be careful", she said.
"I am supposed to take you into the station in cuffs. It is protocol. However, I trust that you will not run away from me. I am not going to cuff you at all. If you abuse that trust, I will hunt you down and make you wish you had not." This wasn't entirely true. I would hunt him down and possibly even find him. But I was remarkably low on the ability to make him regret a decision to get away from me. However, he did not know of my deficiency. He swallowed hard and told me that he would do everything he was supposed to. Apparently my tough-guy act was getting more convincing.
I walked with him down the street to my car and bundled him into the back seat. Making sure the child locks were engaged, I drove Lula to the bonds office before driving Elijah to the precinct.
"Lula is allergic to police stations", I explained. "It is her many years as a former 'ho that has her all antsy at the precinct."
"Are you antsy at the precinct as well?" he asked.
"No. My former boyfriend and many of my friends are cops. I feel quite comfortable in the precinct."
"What happens next?"
"I am not allowed to rebond you out. I don't have that ability. I will call Connie and have her come down to the precinct and rebond you out right away so that you can go home again." I parked my car in short-term parking and opened the back door up. I walked Elijah into the building and, apologizing, cuffed him to the bench. I then got my paperwork filled out by the docket officer. I walked over to Elijah. "Good luck", I said. "I hope it works out all right with your sister."
I called Connie as soon as I left the precinct. "I have an absolute sweetie pie at the station ready to be bonded out again. You may want to drive this one home as well. He doesn't have enough money on him for a taxi and bus service will take too long. If you can't drive him home, let me know and I will pick him up."
"Which felon is he?"
"He is the one who was arrested for duelling. He just wants to look after his sister and was at his wit's end. His fourteen-year old sister was being preyed upon by a twenty-one year old man. I don't blame him for challenging the man to a duel. His sister does not look fourteen and has become the object of affection for many boys in the projects."