Connie was in the bonds office when I arrived. So was Vinnie. When Vinnie heard my voice, he quickly put his pecker back in his pants, turned off the incriminating evidence on his computer, and scurried out of his office. "Steph, you have got to work faster. We have outstanding skips."
"Vinnie, we only have three, two of them I just got handed yesterday afternoon, and the one we have outstanding, the cupid, isn't due back at work until Monday. I think she is out of town, because we have been doing spot checks on her house and she is not there."
"Are you sure she hasn't skipped town?"
"I don't think so. Ranger and I saw her at the pub the other night, but I wasn't given her file until the following day so I didn't know she was FTA when we saw her."
"Are you and Ranger together now?" asked Vinnie, his beady eyes alive in excitement. Connie sat forward to hear my response.
"We are friends. Good friends, but friends."
"But you went out to a pub together."
"It was a nice night and we like spending time together. So sue me", I said as I shrugged my shoulders.
"I didn't know that pubs had organic health food on the menu." Lula came in behind Vinnie and stood, with her purse under her arm, ready to go for the day.
"It didn't. Ranger and I shared a plate of nachos and an order of wings. And we had a Corona each. I was so full by the end of it I didn't even have room for dessert. It was a good spot to go. They have an excellent patio. By the way, Vinnie, how is Lucille?"
"She is all bent out of shape over my affair with her duck. It is just a duck, for fuck's sake. And it wasn't like it was a long affair. It's not that weird to have a relationship with a duck, is it? But no, she had to get her father involved, and now he isn't happy. And Harry is not the sort of person who you want to make unhappy. Lucille is making sure that I attend all my meetings of my sex groups. I had to come in the office today. Lucille has invited the duck into the house to live to 'protect' it from me, but I am finding it hard. All that quacking is turning me on."
"Vinnie, everything turns you on."
"I know I have an active sex drive, but you would think that Lucille would be happy that I was doing a duck. It saves her from putting out for a night or two. But no, she doesn't appreciate the benefits of bestiality."
I looked over at Lula and Connie. They were both staring at Vinnie with deer-in-the-headlights looks. I recognized their feelings of horror because they so clearly mirrored my own. "Eww. I don't think I would be grateful for bestiality either, Vinnie", I said. I turned to Lula. "Do you have anything to add?"
"I think I need to wash my hands on the way out. I feel dirty", said Lula.
"Okay, let's go." I turned to Connie. "Good luck and remember, Lucille would probably thank you if you shot him and Harry could help you get rid of the body."
"What?" exclaimed Vinnie. "Bestiality is a common fetish. Why are you all treating it like it is weird?"
Lula and I decided to tackle the peeping tom first, Caleb Landon. He was caught looking in Skye Chester's windows one Saturday night. She had left her curtains open and, when she called the police, Caleb took off. He did not get far, partly due to the bulge in his pants and partly due to the fact that he was ninety-two. I was just impressed with his initiative and that he could get a bulge in his pants when he was that old. He lived with his daughter in the Burg. Lula and I drove to his daughter's house first. A woman, about sixty years old, answered the door.
"I don't know where my father is right now. I just know he isn't here. Is he in more trouble?" she asked as she worried her lip.
"No, not really. He just missed his court date and we are here to escort him to the courthouse to get his date rescheduled. It's no big deal to get rescheduled. People forget their court date all the time. However, it is a big deal if he tries to avoid coming to jail. That makes him a wanted fugitive and anyone that harbours him could get in trouble. Like you and your family. Does he belong to any social clubs?"
"Yes, one on Broad." She gave me the name of the club. I handed her my card and got her promise to call when her father came home.
Lula and I next motored off to the club on Broad. "I don't know where he is", said the bartender. "He may be at one of his honeys. He has a number of them."
"Do you know who they are?" I asked.
"No, I don't. I'm sorry. I'm not much help."
"You are doing fine. Thank you for your help." I went through my spiel about it being important not to harbour a criminal, handed him my business card and asked him to call me if he saw him. He said he would.
"What do you think next?" I asked Lula. "Public urination on church sign, or go to my parents' house to pump the gossip mill for information on Landon?"
"It may be too early in the day to go to your parents' house. Your mama and grandma might not be serving cake yet. Let's do the public urination first."
Henry Parker lived in a semi-detached house just off Broad, in the same neighbourhood as the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. We drove up and parked a couple of houses down the road. The street was noisy. There were little girls skipping on the sidewalk, little boys riding their bikes up and down the sidewalk and generally getting in the way of the little girls, and toddlers drawing on the driveways with chalk while their parents were out doing gardening and washing cars.
Lula and I walked up to Parker's house and rang the doorbell. We heard a loud thump from inside, then nothing. I rang the doorbell again. Through the open upstairs windows, we heard someone running to the bathroom and throwing up. When the retching stopped, we rang the doorbell again. After ringing the doorbell several more times, Henry Parker finally came down the stairs. "Would you stop incessantly ringing the doorbell? I have a bad headache and the doorbell is making it worse."
I looked at Parker. The smell of alcohol emanating from his pores hit you in the face first, even before you noticed the bloodshot eyes, black circles under his eyes, and vomit in his hair. "Oh, boy. Do you ever need a shower! And some pain relievers, and my cure of hangovers – McDonald's fries and a large coke." He looked at me, goggle-eyed. "I am Stephanie Plum, and this is Lula. We are here representing your bail bonds agent. You missed your court date and need to go into court to reschedule. We are here to take you in." I walked forward, forcing him to take a few steps back until both Lula and I were in the house.
"Come back in four hours and I will gladly go in with you. But I need more sleep first."
"That's not how this is going to work. I am authorized to bring you in however I find you, stained pyjamas and all", I said, looking at his Elmer Fudd pyjamas with coffee stains all down the front of them. "Even with the vomit in your hair. It is also protocol to cuff and shackle you in order to take you into the station. I will make a deal with you, however. I will let you take a shower and clean up and take some pain relievers. I will take you out of the house without cuffs and shackles as long as you behave. And I will take you to McDonald's for my favourite hangover cure on the way into the station. If you do not behave, I will do all those things that I am authorized and encouraged to do, and I will take great joy in pointing out your humiliation to your neighbours. Do we have a deal?"
Glumly, Parker nodded his head.
"Now, where do you keep the pain relievers?" I asked. I walked into the kitchen and started looking through his cupboards.
"Upstairs in the bathroom."
"Go upstairs and take a couple, and have a shower. We will wait down here."
Parker ran upstairs and threw up. Then, a few minutes later, we heard the shower start to run. "Do you want to wait outside or do you want me to?" I asked.
"It's a nice day out. I'll volunteer for the outside. I will leave the rainy days for you", grinned Lula. She went out on the back porch and sat herself down on a lawn chair in the shade.
We waited and waited. Parker took the longest shower in history. Apparently, as the single resident in the house, he had no need to worry about a lack of hot water. I looked outside a couple of times to make sure that Lula had not fallen asleep. It would not be the first time she had fallen asleep while watching out for a skip. I figured she was good, however. The windows weren't rattling with the force of her snores.
I waited at the base of the stairs. By the time Parker was ready to go he had cleaned up, used eye drops to eliminate the redness, and his headache was much improved. He looked infinitely better than he had when we first got there. I called out to Lula that it was time to go. There was no response from Lula. I motioned to Parker to walk in front of me, and walked him through his house to the door from the kitchen to the back yard. Lula was asleep. I shook her awake. "Henry is finished getting ready", I said. "As soon as he locks up the house we will be ready to leave."
"I don't know what happened. I just shut my eyes for a moment to guard them against the glare."
Lula and I followed Henry into the house, and stood while he locked the back door and all the windows. Getting ready to leave, I said "you will need your wallet to pay for a cab ride back, unless you call a friend for a ride." He picked up his wallet off the hall table and put it in his back pocket.
Just as we were about to step through the front door out onto the street, I said "if you don't want to let your neighbours know what is going on, you may want to look a little happier. Pretend you are going to the zoo."
"I hate the zoo."
"Okay, pretend you are going to the museum."
"I hate the museum, too."
"Pretend you are going to the circus then", said Lula, exasperated. "Everybody likes the circus."
We walked out the door, locked it, and walked down to the car. I held open the back door for him. He climbed inside and I watched to make sure he put his seatbelt on. Then Lula and I got in, turned up the air conditioning to freezing and the fan speed to supersonic, put the car in gear, and drove to the closest McDonald's. "Do you want a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder with Cheese to go along with your fries and Coke?" I asked.
"Yes, please. A Quarter Pounder", came the voice from the back.
"I would like a Quarter Pounder with Cheese combo with a Diet Coke", said Lula. "What are you having?"
"I am eating lunch at Rangeman."
"Who said anything about this being lunch? One combo isn't enough for lunch. This is a snack."
"I think I will just have an orange juice."
"Ever since you started working at Rangeman your ability to eat sure has gone down. You make me self-conscious about my eating. Pretty soon I will also only be having one combo for lunch. Only three doughnuts. No value meal combo for a snack. I bet you don't even eat dessert anymore. Of course, now that you are getting it regularly with Mr. Mysterio, you don't need dessert." Lula has a theory that I use either sex or sweets to deal with life's stresses. She may be right, as recently I was under a lot of stress and I ate everything in sight.
"I still eat dessert. Ranger arranged for me to have a piece of homemade chocolate cake for dessert last night."
"Get out, really?"
"How was it?"
"I just about licked the plate clean." I drove through the drive through and ordered and paid for our food. When we picked it up, I handed the bags over to Lula to dole out the food, then parked in the shade of a tree. I put the front windows down all the way, and the back windows down a couple of inches. Then I locked the window position. I waited for a while after Parker finished eating, letting his food settle and work its magic. Lula cleaned out her purse while we waited. I did not need to. I did mine the night before.
After fifteen minutes of quiet, I got a call from the social club. Landon had shown up for a drink. "We are going to do a two-for-one this morning. We are going to pick up Landon, which will allow Parker's headache to fade more completely. I am not sure how we are going to do it yet, but we will have both to take into the station." I drove over to the social club and, leaving Lula and Parker in the car with the front windows completely down and the back windows down a couple of inches for breeze, I walked into the social club.
Recognizing Landon from his police picture, I walked over. He was easy to spot. He was the only person there that was as old as dirt. I introduced myself and explained why I was there. "Did I forget my date?" he asked. "I forget so many things these days. What day is it?"
"It is Saturday, sir", I said.
"Saturday! I am supposed to meet with my friends at the club on Saturday!" he said.
"You are at the club, sir."
"My friends were going to introduce me to a new girl for some knicky-knacky. Are you the girl? Because I would like to have some knicky-knacky with you."
"No, sir. I am here to take you in to be rescheduled."
"What did I do again?"
"You were caught as a peeping tom."
"Hunh. Did I see anything good?"
"I don't know." The bartender was smiling the whole time he was listening to us, and that made me wonder. I turned to the bartender. "Is he normally this confused?"
"I have seen him better", he said.
"Are you putting me on?" I asked Landon.
Landon smiled. "Why would I put you on? Where are you taking me again?"
"To the precinct. And I am wise to your plan. You can still try the memory-loss thing with the police, but you can drop it with me. Now, I have a problem. I have someone in my car already going to the precinct. He is waiting with my assistant. What we are going to do is have my assistant wait here with you while I drop the other guy off at the precinct, then I will come back for you. I just need you to walk out to the car with me to pick up my assistant. She will buy you another drink while you wait with her. You may want to remember your conversation when you talk to her. She is a former hooker and she is a tonne of fun." I saw the gleam in his eye and said "not that kind of fun. She doesn't do that anymore." I put some money down on the bar to pay for Landon's drink and said "he'll be back in a minute." We walked out to the car.
"Thank God you are here", said Parker. "She was starting to snore and that is not helping my headache any."
I woke Lula up and explained what I was going to do and what I needed her to do. I explained that Landon would probably like stories about her former life – I found many of the seniors do, as many are insatiably curious and hungry for stories. And I explained that Landon is not really confused or has a memory loss, despite what he was claiming. "Watch out for this one, Lula. He's wily."
"Aren't you just the cutest little thing. I would be happy to tell you all about being a 'ho, sweetcheeks. Let's just go in and get ourselves a drink. Stephanie is buying, which means I am going to have one of the expensive mixed drinks. Maybe a Harvey Wallbanger. I don't know what that is, but I love the name. Maybe I should try one of those." She led Landon back into the club.
I got back in the car, then drove Parker to the police station. I parked in the short-term parking and walked Parker into the station. I apologized, then cuffed him to the bench before going to the docket lieutenant and to get my paperwork filled out. Then I drove back to the social club to pick up Lula and Landon.
When I got to the social club, I found Landon pumping Lula for information. "You are back already?" he asked, disappointed. "I have been finding out all sorts of interesting things. I will buy you a drink if you wait a few minutes. Lula was telling me the most fascinating story about a man dressed as a woman." I looked down and saw that Lula had finished only half of her Wallbanger.
"Sure. What the heck", I said as I sat down. I ordered a cranberry juice and paid for Lula's and Landon's drinks at the same time as I paid for my own. I drank my juice while Lula finished telling her story. When she finished, before she could start on another, I said "drink up. I need to drop you off at the office, take Landon in, then head off to Rangeman for the afternoon. I have a number of files I want to research."
"If there are any new files for me at the office, could you please text me the details before you leave for the day?"
We went outside and got in the car, turning the air conditioner on to full blast. That is a prerequisite to be a New Jersey driver. In the summer you turn the air conditioner up full blast until you are shivering and blue; in the winter you turn your heater up full blast until you are red-faced and sweating. It is like an unwritten rule.