I drove to the office, passing Connie on Hamilton. I walked into the bail bonds office to find Lula gyrating on the couch, tapping her feet to some imaginary music, snapping her fingers, screeching at the top of her lungs in a rough facsimile of singing. I came up behind her, making her jump.
"Holy shit, you scared the crap out of me!" Lula exclaimed, putting her hand on her heart.
"Sorry. I tried to make noise, but you could not hear me over your singing. Who do you want to go after now?"
"There are three new files in your basket. But according to this morning, the drug possession charge is up next, right?"
"Okay. Shauna Cition. She lives with her father on Stark Street." This area of Trenton extends from the bad to the very bad. It was always dicey working on Stark Street. If you could make it past the drug dealers and gangbangers without incident, it was a bonus. It was an even bigger bonus if your car was waiting for you when you came out from picking up your skip.
I opened my purse and pulled out my gun. Lula's eyes bugged out. "I am tired of always having to call Ranger for help whenever we go to Stark Street", I said. "I want to go in loaded for bear." Lula and I locked up the office and walked out to my car. I got my utility belt out of my trunk and put it on, filling the pockets and loops with my gun, stun gun, pepper spray, cuffs, and Maglite. I also put on my Kevlar vest. Lula watched all this with big eyes.
"I don't think I have ever seen you get so serious about doing a takedown before", she said.
"I promised Ranger I would be careful and it would be hard to explain to him why I was not wearing my utility belt or vest when I was on Stark Street."
"If Ranger found out."
"Ranger always finds out. He's got a spidey sense." We got in the car and I headed to Stark.
"Are you living with him now?"
"No. In fact, I moved back into my own place this morning."
"How did Ranger handle that?"
"He wasn't happy. Ever since I was kidnapped a couple of days ago, he has become overly concerned about my safety. He doesn't perceive my apartment to be secure and, compared to the Batcave where he lives, it isn't." I call the Rangeman building the Batcave because, like its namesake, it is shrouded in secrecy and is one hundred percent secure. "However, he now has cameras on both my apartment door and the fire escape. No one will be able to get into my apartment without Rangeman knowing. It's great that he cares so much, but the level of protectiveness is a little stifling."
"I don't know. I think I would like having someone as hot as Ranger look after me."
"You aren't having to live with it. I thought the tracker on my car was bad enough. Now I can't have any private visitors to my place without Ranger knowing. He will know everything about me and I know nothing about him. It isn't fair." This isn't entirely true. Two days ago, after knowing Ranger for years, he told me about some covert work he was doing for the government in the War on Drugs in South America. I could not tell Lula about that, however. If I told Lula, it would no longer be secret. It would be spread across Trenton within minutes. Lula is not known for her discretion.
"I see what you mean."
"While he will always have his secrets, I am not allowed to have any. It is hard. I would like to be mysterious as well."
"I have never pictured you as a mysterious person. You are so open and upfront. You aren't particularly sneaky or vindictive."
"Is that a good thing?"
"Yes, it is. Just like with me. I am not particularly mysterious either. I am an in-your-face person. It's easier to be like that, to not have to be secretive. It must be tiring to have to guard yourself so closely all the time."
"I think it becomes a way of life, until it becomes difficult to be open. For the longest time, it is what kept Ranger alive." I parked the car at the side of the road in front of Shauna's apartment building. As we left the car a group of teenage boys came walking towards us, two of them looking at Lula and me while they rearranged their privates and made kissy noises, the other four looking at my car.
I turned to the boys. "I can see you looking at my car, and I have to warn you, I am in a nasty mood. The first person I see touch my car will have his nuts blown off. The second person will have his nuts and his foot blown off." I turned and walked into the apartment building. There was no elevator and Shauna lived on the third floor. I looked at Lula. "No elevator. Now I really am in a nasty mood." We turned to the stairs and started to climb. By the second floor we were tired. By the third floor we were out of breath. We paused at the top of the stairs and I looked out at my car. It was nonexistent. So were the youths who were stealing it. Apparently they took my threat to shoot them seriously. I sighed. "See? It's a good thing I got suited up."
Lula just walked away from the window, shaking her head. "You have the worst luck with cars. If they aren't being stolen they are being stink bombed, spray painted, or blown up. I'm glad I don't have as many problems with my car." Lula's car is a red Firebird and it's her baby. I am glad she doesn't have as many problems with her car as well. I remember when a grocery cart hit her car and gave it an inch-long scratch a year ago. Lula stomped around the office for days.
We walked down to Shauna's apartment and rapped on the door. Her father answered the knock. I introduced ourselves and explained that we were there to pick up Shauna to take to court to reschedule. "Is she here right now? We can take her down this morning and she could be bonded out again by this afternoon."
"Picking up Shauna will cost you", said her father, a cagey gleam to his eye.
"No, it won't. Do I need to come in there and root her out? You never know what I might see." The truth was that I was broke. If you opened up my wallet all you would see would be moths fluttering out. I would have given him a twenty if I'd had it.
"I won't hand her over until I see some…" and he rubbed his forefinger and thumb together.
"You will be waiting a long time. All my cash is in my car, and my car was lifted while I walked up the stairs to your apartment. Now, I need to take Shauna in for rescheduling."
"That will be hard if you don't have no car."
"That's okay", said Lula. "She has an endless stream of cars she can use. We just have to wait until another one is delivered. It won't take long."
"I just want to get Shauna first before I phone it in." I quickly stepped past Shauna's father and walked into the apartment. Shauna's father came running up to me, grabbing hold of my sleeve and trying to push me towards the entry again. I batted him off. "Shauna", I called. "I'm Stephanie Plum and you missed your court date. I have come to take you into court to reschedule. Shauna?" I walked into the living room, dining room and kitchen combination. The three rooms were laid out as one big room. The stove looked like it was on its last legs. The oven door was half hanging off its hinges, and there were several layers of food encrusted on the stove top. On the kitchen table was a camp stove with a pot of water boiling away. Over top of the water was a pyrex dish of what looked like marijuana plants soaked in a liquid. The plant liquid was boiling. Nearby were a few containers of butane and a pile of marijuana plant stems. The smell of butane was strong.
I walked through to the bedroom. Shauna was lying on the bed, softly giggling away. She was holding her hand up to the light, turning it this way and that, inspecting it and laughing at it like it was the most fascinating thing in the whole world. "Lula", I called out, "I need your help in here." Lula came through at the same time as Shauna's father. "What is she on?" I asked.
"Shauna? She ain't on nothin'."
"She's normally this happy?"
"Yep. She always was a happy girl."
Lula and I each took a side and lifted Shauna to her feet. Shauna laughed. "Up, up and away", she sang out. We cuffed her and led her from the room, out the apartment, down the stairs and out the front door of the building. I looked. My car had not mysteriously returned.
I breathed a great sigh and pulled out my phone. Ramon answered the call. "Hi, Ramon. It's Stephanie. I am on Stark right now with Lula and a skip, and my car seems to have walked away while I wasn't looking."
"You need us to get your car back?"
"Yes, and I need a transfer to the precinct. I have a very happy skip on a very happy trip. I am afraid that this will morph into a very bad trip soon, so anything you can do to get us to the precinct quickly would be greatly appreciated."
"I'll send out the cavalry."
I thanked him and hung up. "I don't get it. When I am soft and nice, people jack my car. When I am hard and forceful, people jack my car. How come Ranger's cars never get jacked? They go into just as rough neighbourhoods. They wear Kevlar. I'm wearing Kevlar. They wear guns. I am wearing a gun. They wear utility belts. I am wearing a utility belt. Why do people respect Rangeman staff but they don't respect me?"
"Have you seen some of the guys working for Rangeman? Even people in the toughest neighbourhoods are scared of them. You've got that niceness vibe happening. People don't believe you are really going to shoot them."
"Pretty", said Shauna laughing. She took a step into the road, chasing whatever she was seeing in her mind. Lula and I yanked her back to safety.
"What do you think she took?" I asked Lula.
"I suspect it was some acid, although it might have been some hash oil. Either of those things can really mess with your brain. We are just lucky she is on a happy trip. This won't go well for us if things change."
A few minutes later, Ranger drove up in his Cayenne. "I was in the area. Ramon said you needed some help?"
"My car was stolen – again. And I have a skip here who desperately needs to go to the precinct."
"Miguel and Manuel are picking up your car as we speak. They will drive it back to Rangeman for you. I will take you to the precinct." He got out a set of shackles and helped Lula and I wrestle Shauna into the car. Finally, Shauna was all tucked into the car, restrained so that she could not hurt either herself or us. Lula walked around the car and got in the back. Ranger pulled me into a hug and gave me a light kiss. "Hi", he said.
"Hi, back", I said with a smile. I gave him a quick kiss, then walked around the car to get in the front passenger side. As I reached the other side of the car, Shauna's father opened up a window and shouted "hey, bitch. You are not taking my daughter away." He pulled out a gun and blasted it at us. I heard the shot, which was almost immediately followed by a loud KA-BOOM! Windows shattered in the blast and glass rained down on us. Bits of brick came flying down from the walls, bouncing and smashing as they hit the pavement. One piece of brick smashed down on my head and I was covered in a myriad of nicks from the broken glass. Lula and Ranger escaped unscathed. I rubbed my head and blinked back tears from my eyes from the blow.
"Are you okay?" asked Lula as Ranger ran around the car to inspect me.
"I am fine. Just annoyed. There is broken brick everywhere, but neither of you nor the car were hit. Just me. Don't get me wrong. I am glad you weren't hit. But I don't understand why, if something is going to happen, ninety-nine percent of the time it happens to me and not to either of you."
"I don't know. I guess it just sucks to be you", said Lula.
"Ka-boom! Hee, hee, hee", said Shauna.
I shook out the glass from down my shirt as Ranger inspected the bump on my head and checked my eyes for evidence of a concussion. Then, momentarily satisfied, he tucked me in the front seat, got in the car himself, and drove away. Fire trucks passed us on the way to the scene. "Just got out of there in time", Ranger said. "They would have boxed us in and we would have been there all afternoon."
As Ranger drove Lula to the bonds office first and dropped her off, I said "that's two skips we brought in today. All in all, a good morning. I want to go home and have a shower. I'll pick you up tomorrow to go find the other one?" Lula agreed and headed into the office.
"How is your head?" Ranger asked as he drove the rest of the way to the precinct.
"Okay. Just sore."
"Do you need to go to the hospital?"
"No. I have a bump and I will have a bruise. It's sore to touch, so I'm just not touching it. I'll be okay."
"Ka-boom!" said Shauna from the backseat.
"What do you think caused the explosion?"
"If I had to guess, there was a two-burner camp stove set up in the kitchen which appeared to be making hash oil. The smell of butane was strong. I suspect that the explosion came from making the oil."
"That would make sense. The shot that Shauna's father fired at you would be the trigger for the explosion."
"Ka-boom!" said Shauna from the backseat.
"I should report this to the police when I get in, shouldn't I?" I said, resigned. "I was so hoping to just drop Shauna off and go home to shower."
"No, I'm sorry, but you should report this." Ranger parked in the drop-off area and, with Shauna held up between the two of us, walked with me into the station. I cuffed Shauna to the bench. "Ka-boom!" she said.
I walked up to the docket lieutenant and handed her my paperwork. She blanched looking at me. "Are you okay, Steph? You look a little banged up."
"When I was picking up Shauna her building exploded and I was caught in the crossfire. Since I suspect I know what caused the explosion, I would also like to give a statement. Who should I see for that?"
"I will call someone down if you want to take a seat."
I waited with Ranger for a few minutes. Waiting with Ranger is a peaceful activity. He does not see the need for unnecessary talk, so spending time with him often gives me a chance to get in touch with my Zen.
Morelli came through, his face turning white when he saw me. I recently broke up with Morelli after a long on-again, off-again relationship. This time the "off" phase feels more permanent. He remains, however, a good friend. My father calls him the Italian Stallion. He is six feet of male testosterone, packaged in all the right places, and is a nice guy to boot. However, I don't think he is for me, a fact that I have accepted but Morelli has not. "I'm okay", I said. "I think it must look worse than it really is. I'm not sure, because I have not seen myself."
Morelli glanced down at Ranger and I swear I could see the steam coming out of his ears. Morelli thinks Ranger gets me in trouble. And I can see his point. Ranger does at times get me in trouble. However, because he gets me out of trouble much more frequently, I think the point is moot. "Where were you when all this was happening?" he asked.
"I was getting in the car. Stephanie turned back towards the building when Shauna's father started shooting at her."
"Shooting at her?" His face became more florid in colour. With difficulty, Morelli got control of his temper and in his take-no-prisoners cop's voice, said "what happened?"
"Shauna – who is over there singing to herself – is my skip. She reported to police that the weed she bought was of inferior quality and she wanted the dealer arrested. The police arrested her on a possession charge instead. I was picking her up and, in entering her apartment, I found that her father was apparently making a batch of hash oil. The smell of butane was strong in the apartment. Lula and I cuffed Shauna and took her out of the apartment, waiting in the shadows for a pick up. We needed a ride because my car was stolen again." That got a grunt and a partial smile from Morelli. "Ranger showed up to give us a ride. Just after Lula and Shauna got into the car, Ranger started to get in the car as I walked around it to get in the passenger side. Shauna's father saw me outside and threatened me with a gun to try to get Shauna released. He shot off a bullet at Ranger's car, and that is when the explosion happened."
"He wasn't shooting at Ranger's car, Cupcake. He was shooting at you."
"Luckily for me, then, that he isn't a very good shot." Morelli just shook his head in amazement.
"Do you have anything to add to that?" Morelli asked Ranger.
"No. I arrived late to the party", he said.
"Okay. I will pass your statement on to the investigating officer and will let you get home to shower off all that blood."
"It's really nothing."
Morelli sighed. "No, it's not nothing. But it is your life. You are always the one hit by the flying glass."
I leaned over and gave Morelli a kiss on the cheek. "I really am okay." Then, getting up, I followed Ranger out of the building.
"Ka- BOOM! Hee, hee, hee", said Shauna.