I got to the office ten minutes late, which meant that I beat Lula to the office by twenty minutes.
"You have a few files outstanding", said Connie. "Vinnie is starting to make noises. There are a number of felons coming up for trial soon, and he wants your case load cleaned up pronto."
"Why is he so upset? I only have four files open, and two of them live in the same house."
"The human traffickers and the terrorist hoaxer are all high bonds. And he is grumpy about everything right now. Lucille is keeping him on a very short leash, a choke collar actually, and he is feeling the pinch."
"After everything he has put her through, what was the final straw that made her shorten the leash?"
"I think she found out about the duck."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because she came storming in the office with a duck under her arm, saying the duck was her pet and asking how could he?"
"Yeah, I can see how that you make you think the duck was involved. Tell him I am working on the files. Today we are going after the terrorist hoaxer and the cupid. I want to do reconnaissance on the human traffickers, but Ranger said he would bring in a team to help me do the takedown. With there being two to capture at the same time, it would be next to impossible for Lula and me to capture them ourselves."
"That will make Vinnie feel better. Lula said you went on another date with Ranger last night?"
"Yes. We had a great night", I said, smiling in remembrance. "We went out to that new pub on Main Street, then went for a walk in Cadwalader Park. I ended up spending the night at his place again."
"Did I hear you right, girlfriend?" asked Lula as she walked into the office. "Did I hear you say that you spent the night at his place? I thought you were moving back into your own place."
"We had such a good time last night we didn't want the evening to end. And my car was still at Rangeman, so we headed over to his place. It is easier anyway. I have doubles of a lot of my stuff stored at Ranger's."
"You have your face wash there?" asked Connie.
"Yep. My face wash, a hair dryer, hairbrush, toothbrush, makeup, even pads and tampons. I've got a store of clothing there – mostly uniforms, but still clothing – and some of my favourite foods are in the kitchen."
"You've practically moved in", squealed Lula.
"No, but I have lived there almost exclusively for the past two months. You tend to make your mark on the space in that amount of time."
"You are practically married", said Lula. "Mrs. Stephanie Manosa."
"Don't let Ranger hear you say that. Besides, we aren't even close. I have never met his family, I do not really know all that much about him. I know his character, but I don't know his past and I barely know his present. I definitely don't know his plans for the future. There is a whole lot of sharing that needs to happen before we could call what we have a relationship. Right now, we are just friends with benefits."
"And they look like they would be some pretty fine benefits", said Lula, smacking her lips.
"Yes, they are very fine benefits. The best benefits I have ever experienced."
"I knew it!" exclaimed Lula. "The professional always knows!"
I opened up the file on Aphrodite Akuna. I flipped through the information, pausing on the picture. Same gray eyes, same bristly black curly hair. Excitedly, I got out the discarded business card from the weird lady at the pub. Sure enough, the name on the card was Aphrodite Akuna. I was excited and frustrated at the same time. I had been so close to being able to make a capture last night. I just did not know it.
"I have a lead on Aphrodite", I said. "She works at the pub Ranger and I went to last night. She came up to Ranger and me and asked us if we would like to get married."
Connie almost spat out her mouthful of coffee. "I would have liked to have seen Ranger's face when she asked that."
"Mr. and Mrs. Manosa. Mrs. Ranger Manosa. Mrs. Ricardo Manosa. Mrs. Stephanie Manosa. I like it", said Lula.
"NO! We are not getting married. We are not even boyfriend and girlfriend. We have just gone on a couple of dates." They were pretty fantastic dates, but they were just two dates. And two dates do not make a romantic relationship. "Ranger's crew switches between monitoring and patrol at eleven o'clock. The pub won't open until eleven o'clock, when they open for the lunch crowd. Let's go after the hoaxer, then head over to the pub for some information and some lunch, and finally off to gather some information on the traffickers. Rangeman is helping us do the takedown on them", I explained to Lula.
"Sounds like a plan to me", said Lula.
The hoaxer had a job, working as a check-out clerk at a grocery store near State and Maple. I phoned her work and found out that her shift started at eleven o'clock. Just enough time to suit up, drive to her house, and try to capture her before she went to work.
We headed out to the car, getting dressed in the process. Lula once again squished her body into the flak vest while I put on my Kevlar and utility belt. I put my gun in the holster while Lula tucked hers in the back of her waistband. Lula's birthday was coming up, and I decided that I would buy Lula a utility belt for her birthday. It just may be hard to find one in her size. I would ask Tank where to shop for it. At 6'6" and muscular, he would have a good idea where the more generously proportioned people should shop.
We drove to the projects, parking a couple of houses down the street from Ava Madison's house. I looked at the file again. No children. That is good. I hate taking skips in front of their kids.
We walked to the front porch of the townhouse and rang the doorbell. We could hear someone walking inside towards the door, accompanied by a ferocious sounding dog. I got my Maglite out of my utility belt. The Maglite was perfect for bashing in heads of uncooperative skips and dangerous dogs. As a side benefit, it also worked well as a flashlight.
"I can hear you in there, Ava. We are your bond enforcement officers and you missed your court date. We have come to take you to the station to get rescheduled. You need to do that. You are a wanted felon. Without being rescheduled, anyone can get charged for helping you. This means that your boyfriend could get charged for letting you stay at his place, and your employer could get charged for harbouring a felon as well. That would likely result in you getting fired. Once you get rescheduled you will no longer be a fugitive and you will be treated the way you are now."
"I don't like jail. They aren't very nice to me there."
"They aren't nice to you because you weren't nice to them."
"I just sent them talcum powder. It wasn't any big deal."
"That may be, but whatever you did, you are in a heap of trouble now. You need to go to court to tell the judge why it wasn't a big deal and, until you get rescheduled, you are a wanted fugitive."
"Okay. Let me get dressed."
"Let us in, first."
"No. I won't be long."
I looked at Lula, and she looked at me. "I'll take the back. Holler if she comes out the front."
I jogged around the side of the building just in time to see Ava leave her backyard and walk quickly in the other direction. I took off after her, tackling her from behind. The two of us went smacking onto the ground, her bucking desperately to try to dislodge me, and me trying desperately to not let her get away. I was able to get one half of the cuffs on Ava. I shouted "bond enforcement" and flipped her over onto her stomach before slipping the other bracelet on her wrist. Then, huffing and puffing, I pulled Ava to her feet and started to march her around the end of the row of townhouses to meet up with Lula. Ava struggled to get away, yanking and tugging on my hands in an effort to dislodge me. Finally, I stopped walking. "Did you see the Maglite on my utility belt?" I asked.
"Yeah, so what, white girl?"
"So I don't use that for the flashlight capabilities. If you look closely at it, you would probably find hair and blood on it from the last person I hit." I was completely bluffing, but I hoped that Ava would not question my tough girl act.
"Oh, yeah? You can't do that. I'd report you to the police."
"Go ahead, for two reasons. To report me to the police you would have to make a statement, which means that you would have to talk to a police officer, which means that you would be picked up by the cops for skipping bail. My job would then be done. The other part is that the police will not be very considerate of your feelings in all this. Based on what you did, I imagine that I would get a commendation for assaulting you rather than jail time. You are basically screwed in all this and it's your own fault. Now, we will walk calmly to the car so that I don't have to bash your head."
"You wouldn't have enough guts to hit me on the head."
"No?" I said, deadly quiet, imitating Ranger. "Are you sure about that? Do you want to try me?"
By this time we were almost at the car. Lula had not spotted us yet. She was playing on a hopscotch that one of the neighbourhood children had drawn in chalk on the sidewalk. "Lula! Get the shackles!" I called out.
Ava started to struggle again. "I ain't going in no fucking shackles."
I gave her a shake. "Yes, you are. Now, do I need to get out my Maglite to convince you?" Lula come over to us carrying the shackles while Ava continued to struggle. "What do you think it should be, Lula? Bashing her over the head with my Maglite, or zapping her with my stun gun? Ava twisted and turned, kicking out as Lula tried to get the shackles on her feet. "Stun gun, I think. You can do the honours, Lula, since it is your face she is trying to kick."
Ava continued to struggle, fighting even harder, if that was even possible. "You are letting me stun her? You hardly ever let me do that." Lula took my stun gun out of my utility belt and turned it on. As soon as the light went green, Lula zapped Ava. She went down like a load of bricks.
"Damn skippy", I said as I took the shackles from Lula's hand and put them on Ava's ankles. "It was pretty tense around the police department for a while until they discovered that it was all a hoax. She may have thought that it was funny, but the police were definitely not laughing. She deserves to be shot rather than stunned, but that is my personal opinion. I keep telling myself we have to trust in the system and I cheer myself up by thinking she might not be able to make bail this time around."
I picked Ava up by her shoulders and Lula picked her up by her ankles, and we carried her to the car. "Ava actually bought my tough girl act for a while. Threatening to brain her with the Maglite worked for a little while to encourage cooperation."
"Putting a return address on the ricin letter, believing your tough girl act, she isn't very smart, is she?"
"I thought maybe I was just getting better at playing the tough girl."
"Oh, sweetie, no", she said, shaking her head. "She's just plain dumb."
I unlocked the door and we bundled Ava into the car, put on her seatbelt, and shut the door. Lula and I got in the front seat and I drove to the bonds office. I dropped Lula off and drove to the precinct. By the time I got there Ava was coming to and fighting mad. I drove into the drop-off area and called the docket officer in charge to send someone out to help me move Ava into the station. I got out of the car and watched my car rock up and down on its wheels as Ava bucked and kicked in her seat.
Morelli walked out of the station. "I heard you needed help transferring in a skip, Cupcake." He looked at the movements of my car. "Epileptic seizure?" he asked.
"No. Just angry. We had to stun her to get her in the car."
"What is she in for?"
"This is Ava Madison. She was the person who threatened Billy Bennett with ricin a few weeks ago. I was quite happy when she was resisting arrest and I could justify stunning her."
"The Kevlar, utility belt and gun is a new look for you."
"I don't always accessorize this way. I just wanted to scare the crap out of her, and Lula said that I don't exactly look scary on my own."
"No, there is a reason I call you 'cupcake'." He looked at me for a moment, leaned over and gave me a light kiss on the lips. "I haven't seen you for a couple of days. I've missed you."
"It's nice to see you as well. How's Bob?" Bob is Morelli's shaggy orange Chewbacca-type of dog. He is as affectionate as hell and as dumb as a post.
"Bob's good. He misses you."
"He's a good dog. How's your family?"
"I am trying to stop my grandmother from cursing you. So far, I have succeeded, mainly because she hasn't seen you. I would stay away from her if you can." Morelli's Grandma Bella has a habit of cursing me whenever she is angry with me. Unfortunately for me, she is angry at me a lot. Even more unfortunately for me, her curses seem to work.
"Thanks for the warning." I looked down at my skip, who was continuing to have an attack of some kind, screaming and swearing at me from the inside of the car. "I think she is starting to foam at the mouth. Let's get her inside before she eats her way out of the seatbelt."
Morelli opened the door while I ran around to the other side of the car and undid her seatbelt. Released, Ava put her head down and launched herself out of the car, surprising Morelli and knocking him out of the way with her head-butting ramming technique. She started to run away, but the shackles slowed her down considerably. I chased her down, tackling her in the driveway to the precinct. We both went down, hard, on the pavement. Ava took the brunt of the fall, skidding across the asphalt and skinning her knees. I was remarkably less hurt. I had landed on Ava.
Ava was crying, screaming and swearing, bucking me off and trying to bite me. I was angry. As I was getting off her and standing up again, I leaned over and said "the offer still stands. Stun gun again, or Maglite? Because if you don't start cooperating, you will get one or the other. And if I remain in as nasty a mood as you are putting me in, you might get both."
Morelli came jogging up to us. "Sorry, Cupcake, she surprised me."
"I could tell. It's not often that someone gets the drop on you." Morelli reached down on one side of Ava and I reached down on other, and on the count of three we lifted her up onto her feet. I locked the car on the way into the station, cuffed the still swearing and fighting mad Ava to the bench, removed my shackles, and got my paperwork filled out. I walked out to the waiting Morelli and kissed him on his cheek. "Thank you for the help."
"Do you want to go to Pino's for lunch?" he asked.
"I would normally say 'yes', but I have a lunch date with Lula and a skip today. Thank you for the offer, though."
"You aren't buying your skips lunch again, are you?"
"No. The skip works at the restaurant. It's just Lula and I who are having lunch."