Trigger Happy 23

Chapter 2

TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL

p. 27

Chapter Two

I woke up on Sunday and thought about attending church. But like every other Sunday, I felt guilty about not going for only as long as it took me to fall back to sleep. When I woke again, I found that it was too late to go to church. After promising to God and myself I would go the next week, I no longer felt guilty. That is the weekly pattern I set shortly after moving out of my parents' house. It is a pattern that works for me.

When noon came on the Sunday, I was ready and waiting for Lula. I opened the apartment door, telling Lula that her hair looked good as I did so. I lied. "Did you notice the green streaks through it?" she asked. I told her that yes, I did notice the streaks. I didn't mention that it made her hair look like it was going mouldy.

We decided to take her car, as we didn't think it was a good idea to take as expensive a car as a Porsche Cayenne to buy a used car. Of course, I'm not sure how much better it is to take her Firebird. After all, what kind of message does it send to take such a fancy car as the Firebird? We took it anyway. The Firebird was the less costly of the two.

We went first to Lucky Lenny's used car lot. I don't think he was very lucky. Most of the cars on his lot didn't seem to start and the ones that did had bullet holes in them. One was missing a bumper and another was missing a floor pan. Since I did not want to drive the car in the style of Fred Flintstone, we went to the next used car lot, Arlington's Autos, down the street, where there was a car which looked like it had been partially compacted by the car squisher at the junkyard. There was another Fred Flintstone car with a couple of extra bumpers in the trunk. Lula and I did not feel there were any good deals there either. "They just don't make them like my Firebird", she said as she patted the hood of her car. "Too bad you can't get comprehensive insurance no more. If you could, you could lease like me", she said. It was true. I had so many car "accidents" in my past that no insurance company would pay for replacement of my car. They would only pay liability. I know because I have tried them all. I guess there are only so many times your car can get blown up before the insurance company will refuse to cover replacement value. In practical terms, what that meant is that I had very little money with which to buy a new car.

At the third used car lot I found a potential car. It was an eight-year old Saturn. Because of the polymer sides, it had very little rust on the car. It was still its original green colour, although the polymer sides had faded in the sun to a pale teal colour. The bumpers were scraped, but the body of the car looked like it was in good condition. I took the car out for a test drive. It started. Already it was better than seventy percent of the cars I had seen that day. It sounded okay, without too much of an engine knock, and it went around the block without stalling. It was a vast improvement to most cars I have owned. Lula was equally enthusiastic about the car. We were thinking of making an offer until Lula noticed the stick figure family in the back window of the car. These are three inch high white stickers depicting the owner's family. In many rear windows you might see something like a mom stick figure, a dad stick figure, a little girl skipping stick figure, a little boy playing soccer stick figure, and a dog with a bone. On the Saturn, the stick figure family consisted of one adult female and ten cats. "Would you look at that!" Lula said. "That lady had ten cats." Lula started to sneeze. "I knew there was something wrong with that car", she said. "I've been wanting to sneeze since I first sat in the thing. I have an allergy to cats. If you buy this car I would never be able to ride shotgun." And she promptly sneezed again, letting out an enormous fart at the same time. I moved up wind from her. I didn't point out to her that she hadn't needed to sneeze when she was actually in the car. There was little point. Once Lula gets something into her head, it is very hard to get it back out again. And I needed to have Lula ride shotgun.

I told the disappointed sales person "no", and we climbed back in the car. As we left the lot, I could see the sales person at the back of the car, peeling the stick figures off the window.

Driving down to Broad Used Autos, Lula said I should consider looking through the classifieds to see if there were any suitable used cars for sale there. Good idea. We detoured off to a convenience store, bought a paper and scanned the ads as we sat in the parking lot. There were three minivans and two sedans for sale. Each of the sedans had almost three hundred thousand kilometres on them. They were simply too old for what I had in mind. And I couldn't bring myself around to the idea of driving a minivan. It didn't fit my self-image of a hip, single woman. A Lexus convertible would have suited my self-image, but they didn't have any of those in my price range. Dejected, we continued on to Broad Used Autos. The pickings were equally as dismal there. No Lexuses at all and the only suitable cars were at least a thousand dollars over my price range.

I sighed. One of the other customers was standing there looking at a gently used Corolla. He looked over at me and smiled sympathetically. "Have you tried Craigslist and AutoTrader yet?" he asked.

Duh. I didn't even think of looking online. Feeling a little better about things, Lula and I went back to my place to look at the ads.

I pulled up Craigslist on the computer. There were ten cars in my price range in the Trenton/Newark area that would be suitable. They were an average of ten years old, and had an average of two hundred thousand kilometres. Prices were better than the prices at the used car lots. I also pulled up AutoTrader. There were some cars that were posted on both sites, but between the two sites I had fifteen separate vehicles to choose from.

Lula and I poured over the sites, finally choosing two vehicles. One was an eleven-year old Jeep Liberty, the other was a nine-year old four-door Honda Accord. Both looked like they were in good condition by their pictures. And more importantly, both were in my price range. I contacted both owners and made arrangements to see the cars the next evening. Feeling more positive, Lula and I each had a beer to celebrate. We split the remainder of my mom's lasagne and watched an old rerun of Friends on TV. Then we split the cookies my mom had sent home with me. By the time the episode was over we were full and Lula decided to go home.

I fed Rex another piece of apple and checked my messages. Two mouth breathers, one credit card offer and a reminder that I was due for a dental appointment. I phoned Morelli.

"What did you do all day?" Morelli asked.

"I looked at a number of used car lots, and in the paper, and online, for a suitable car. I have to give the Cayenne back to Ranger. I have had it too long as it is", I said.

"I will be happy when you give the car back. I don't like you driving his cars. I'm just not sure where they come from. Seriously, how can he always have new cars? And expensive cars? And how can they always be in top condition? Don't you ever wonder about that?"

I didn't bother answering him. This was an old argument we have been over many times, and there was no point in rehashing it again. He doesn't seem to believe me when I tell him what Ranger told me – the cars are provided in exchange for the provision of security services. Morelli thinks the cars have a dubious pedigree.

"Do you want me to go with you to look at the cars tomorrow night? To have another set of eyes?" Morelli asked.

"That would be great. Lula is busy. I have two cars I want to see. They are both in the Trenton area. From the pictures, the cars look great. But I would like your opinion. And I would like your help to make sure the cars aren't stolen." We made arrangements to meet for dinner at Pino's, our favourite local pizzeria, at six o'clock.

When I woke up the next day I could hear the rain pinging off the fire escape outside. I hate when it rains during the day. I like it at night, when you are all safe and dry in bed. Then the sound of the rain outside is comforting and calming. When you have to go out in the rain, however, it is just a pain in the keister. You have to juggle an umbrella with your purse, and try to jump over all the puddles while at the same time getting your pants soaked by all the cars splashing up water as they pass by.

I got up and showered, drinking coffee and eating a couple banana muffins for breakfast. The muffins were pretty good. I saved a bite for Rex, putting it in his dish before I left. "Tell me if the phone breather causes you any problems", I said. Leaving Rex in charge of the apartment, I drove to the office to meet up with Lula.

We decided to get Minetti first. He was scheduled to be at work. We headed over to the copy shop to meet up with him. When we got there we tried to form a plan. I wanted Lula to wait at the back door, to catch him if he tried to escape again.

"No way", Lula said. "I ain't waiting in no rain for some punk assed robber to possibly try to escape the store. The rain will frizz my hair." I told her that, as the bounty hunter assistant, she was not authorized to capture any felons. She was only allowed to assist. Therefore, she was the one who would have to stand in the rain while I went in the store to do the capture. I offered Lula my umbrella.

"Not going to take it", she said. "I'm not waiting in no rain. I will wait in the car and keep a lookout from there."

"Fine", I huffed, and got out of the car. Leaving Lula the umbrella, I walked up to the store. By the time I got to the door Lula was under the umbrella, behind me. We entered the store together and spoke to the manager again. "Did Michael Minetti come in today?"

"No", he answered. "He was supposed to be here an hour ago, but he is late."

"Is he normally late for work?" I asked.

"Yes, often. He isn't a very good employee. I keep wanting to fire him, but he is the son of one of my good friends. I'm doing my friend a favour by hiring him. It's even worse now he was arrested for robbery. Why would I want someone working here who was arrested for robbery? I have to check and double check my bank deposits each night just to assure myself it is all there."

I gave the manager my card again, and asked him to call if he saw Minetti. The manager said he would.

Leaving the copy shop, we ran out into the rain and sprinted to the car, trying to dodge raindrops but getting soaked anyway. "I'm getting hungry", said Lula. "I'm thinking a donut would be good about now."

"How about a free banana muffin instead", I said, and pointed the car in the direction of the Minetti residence.

"Muffin works for me", said Lula. "Free works even better."

We got to the Minetti home and, sharing the umbrella, ran up to the front door of the house. We rang the doorbell. Mrs. Minetti answered the door. "Oh, hello", she said. "I wasn't expecting to see you again so soon. Have you been able to find Michael? He hasn't come home since Friday night." I asked whether it was common for Minetti not to come home.

"Sometimes he stays with friends, especially if he has been partying."

I gave Mrs. Minetti my card and asked her to call if her son came home. I also thanked her again for the banana loaf and muffins, saying we both had enjoyed them very much.

"Please, take some more", she begged. "I baked another three dozen banana-chocolate chip muffins and four banana walnut loaves today. Please, take it all." She disappeared into the house, emerging with the muffins in three plastic bags and the walnut loaves wrapped in plastic wrap. Happily loaded up with baked goods, we ran to the car and put our loot in the back seat. We each took a muffin and ate in blissful silence. Mrs. Minetti was a really good baker.

Instead of looking further for Michael Minetti, I decided to concentrate on looking for Paulo Rosolli. I took out the file and the information I had printed off on him. Explaining a bit of the background to Lula, I told her we were looking for Connie's cousin, who seems to have flown the nest. As promised, I did not tell Lula about the discrepancy in the bond.

Since Connie had already spoken to all of the family members, I decided it would be better to start our search with Paulo's properties. He owned five properties in Trenton proper. Three of these properties were rented out to mom-and-pop type of businesses, with rental apartments on the second floor of the buildings. The other two were very small apartment buildings; one was more the size of a rooming house, with four apartments in it, while the other was three floors and housed nine apartments. We decided to tackle the mom-and-pop businesses first. We laid out the locations on the map and attacked the farthest away from the office first.

The first business was a dry cleaner. Entering the store, we were hit by a wall of heat. Mixed with the rain outside, the inside of the store was sweltering and had a chemical smell that caught in the back of the throat. This was a dry cleaner that cleaned its clothes onsite. We walked up to the counter and rang the bell. Within seconds we were getting uncomfortably warm and steam was starting to rise off of us. I eased the zipper of my jacket open. Lula took her jacket right off.

While we waited for someone to come to serve us, I looked around the store. Pictures of baseball teams displaying the dry cleaner's name on their chests were posted on the wall. A pennant from three years ago was pinned above them. There were also two pictures of students in caps and gowns hanging on the wall. Judging by the hair styles, these graduation pictures were taken recently. I assumed the pictures were of the owner's children.

A pleasant looking Asian woman came to the front of the store. "May I help you?" she asked. I showed her the picture of Paulo, asking her whether she had seen him. "No, not recently", she said. "He comes to collect our post-dated rent cheques once a year, and he comes if there is a problem with either the store or our apartment up above. But I haven't seen him recently. The last time was probably about five months ago."

I gave her my card, explaining that Paulo was due in court on racketeering charges but had missed his court date. I asked her to call me if she saw him. "I will. He is such a nice man. I wouldn't have suspected he was a criminal. I hope he is okay."

We didn't check the apartment above. The dry cleaner lady said that she, her husband and her two children lived in it, and that no one was currently there.

We drove to the next business on the list. This business was a convenience store. We ran into the store, getting wet in the downpour. The store was small but it had a wide variety of items for sale. "But no slushies", complained Lula. "How can a convenience store have no slushies? I could really go for a slushy about now. One of the red ones, although the blue are pretty good, too. Just not the yellow or green ones. I mean, seriously, would you drink something that has the same colour as pee? And the green ones look like alien blood." It seemed like a good point to me. I like the red ones best as well, and I won't go near one of the yellow or green ones. Everybody knows that you don't drink the yellow or green ones. Not necessarily because they are the same colour as pee or alien blood, but rather because they taste terrible.

We rang the bell and waited for the sales clerk to come. Once there, I showed the clerk the picture of Paulo. I asked him if he had seen Paulo recently.

"No, I haven't. Hey, do you want him for something? Is there are reward out for finding him? I could really use the money." I wanted to tell him there was no reward, but I didn't think he would help us if I didn't offer him money. So I told him there would be a twenty dollar bill with his name on it if he called us when he saw Paulo and we were able to capture Paulo based on his tip. He seemed happy, so I gave him my card.

On the way out of the store, I asked about the person living in the apartment above. "There is a woman named Bonita living there. I have never seen her have company over though. She comes in here every morning – alone – to buy her coffee before she grabs the bus to work. She's a nice person, but quiet, you know?" I knew the type. My sister was that kind of person – quiet, serene, and never really gets into trouble. The complete opposite to me.

We went outside and slogged through the parking lot to the rear of the building. Leaving Lula with the umbrella to wait at the bottom of the stairs, I climbed up the stairs and knocked on the door of the apartment. There wasn't any answer. I peeked through the window on the door into the tiny kitchen. The kitchen, and what I could see of the place beyond, was neat and tidy. There was a single glass, bowl and spoon drip-drying in the dish rack. There was no indication of anybody living there other than Bonita. And no one answered the door.

I shook my head at Lula and climbed back down the stairs. I was now soaked and in a bad mood. There was one more storefront to visit before I officially quit for the day. In the afternoon I planned on doing phone work from my apartment. I checked the weather on my phone. It was supposed to stop raining around mid-afternoon, and clear up in time for looking at cars later on tonight. And it was supposed to be nice tomorrow. That wouldn't be so bad, I thought. Shoring myself up with thoughts of the hot shower I would have when I got home, I drove to the third storefront. It was a small diner. And it was busy with the lunchtime crowd. It was especially busy as it appeared that there was only one server waiting on the entire restaurant.

"Perfect!" Lula said. "I was just getting hungry." I agreed. I was getting hungry, too. We lined up just inside the door, waiting for a table. I tried to wring out my hair while we waited. After a few minutes a booth opened up along the back wall, and we were able to take a seat. A smiling waitress came to deliver menus, giving our table a swipe with a cloth. "A little wet out there?" she questioned, looking at my soaked jacket and hair. Lula and I each smiled and agreed, ordered hot coffee and settled down to look at our menus. After some deliberation, Lula ordered a hamburger, a plate of fries and a plate of onion rings. I ordered the hot roast beef sandwich with gravy, also with fries. I hoped to snag some of Lula's onion rings from her plate. When the waitress came back to take our orders, I showed her Paulo's picture. "I'm sorry – I don't recognize him. Why are you looking for him?" I trotted out the usual line, explaining that he had missed his court hearing and needed to reschedule. I then asked about the tenant upstairs. "There is a young couple who lives up there. I don't think they cook much because they come in most nights and pick up something for dinner." I asked whether they were ordering more than usual over the last couple of days. "No, not that I have noticed", she said. Just then another customer called out for her to come and give him his bill, and the waitress hurried away.

It felt like we had hit a bit of a dead end in looking for Paulo. I wasn't giving up so easily though. I still had to knock on the apartment upstairs, there were still the two apartment buildings to check out, and I still had the task of calling all of Connie's relatives to see if they knew anything. I also wanted to go into Rangeman to see if I was able to find out anything on the Rangeman search engines. Their search programs are far more advanced than the programs that the bonds office uses, or even from what the police use. Their search engines are highly invasive, and will tell you everything from the contents of your kindergarten report cards to the results of your last gynecological exam. I once ran my own name through the programs for fun and was shocked at how much the programs found out. They reported things even I didn't know about myself. Because it is a little scary how much information can be discovered through the programs, I don't like using them unless I had to. It just seems wrong to be so intrusive on someone's privacy. But, in this case, they were the best bet I had to find out about other properties and holding companies Paulo may have and I didn't have any other choice other than using them.

Lula and I ate our lunch, me snagging several of Lula's rings and Lula dipping her fries into the extra gravy on my plate. The meal was good – nice and hot. Leaving the waitress a good tip, we went out into the rain. It was raining harder than before, if that was even possible. Lula again waited at the bottom of the stairs with the umbrella and I got drenched walking up the stairs. I knocked on the door, but there was no one home. I guessed that both home owners were at work. I looked in the windows but only saw two coffee cups, one plate with toast crumbs on it, a dirty knife, and one bowl and spoon sitting on the counter. There were no indications that there were any other people staying in the apartment other than the couple renting the space.

We got back into the car, into the comforting smell of freshly baked banana bread. I was soaked and starting to shiver, and decided to call off the investigation of Paulo's properties. Lula was relatively dry. I dropped her and her baked goods, as well as some muffins and a loaf of bread for Connie, off at the bonds office, telling her that I was going home to do phone work from my apartment after I had a shower and warmed up. That wasn't entirely true. I planned to go to Rangeman before I did the phone work. I just didn't want to tell Lula that, as I knew she would want to come. She has been dying to get into the Rangeman facility for a while now, wanting the full seven-floor tour, with an especial focus on the top-floor apartment where Ranger lives. I have been trying equally as hard to protect Rangeman, and especially Ranger, from Lula's curiosity. It would not go over well if Lula came with me to Rangeman. Simply put, if I invited Lula to go with me to Rangeman, I am afraid that I would never get invited back.

Rangeman is located in an unassuming seven-story office building on a quiet side street in the heart of Trenton. It was a good location, about ten minutes from the police station, the bonds office, and my apartment building. In addition to Ranger's apartment, the building contains an apartment for the building housekeeper, Ella, and her caretaker husband, Luis; efficiency apartments for staff; a gym; a shooting range; holding cells; offices; conference rooms; and the heart of the business, a control room that monitors all client security systems. This control room also monitors what happens to Rangeman staff and vehicles, as well as the Rangeman main office, safe houses, and other properties. The bonds office is monitored by Rangeman. So am I. A tracking device is put into my car, usually without me knowing, whether I want it or not. Ranger often sneaks a tracking device into my purses and sometimes into my coat pockets as well. Ranger likes to take care of his own.

After having a hot shower and changing into dry clothes, I phoned Tank and asked for permission to go to Ranger's apartment to use his computer in his home office. Tank said he would tell the control room I was coming. I did not need a key – Ranger had given me keys to the underground parking and his apartment a long time ago. But while I could technically get in, the control room would still need to know I was coming or they would stop me from going to the seventh floor – the floor that contained Ranger's home.

I drove to Rangeman, let myself into the underground parking lot and parked the Cayenne in one of Ranger's personal parking spots. Ranger has four spots: one for his 911 Porsche Turbo, one for his Porsche Cayenne, one for his Toyota Tacoma, and an empty one. I'm not sure if Ranger was planning on buying another car, but I know that the fourth spot is usually where I park. It is nice and close to the elevators.

I keyed myself up into Ranger's apartment. No matter how often I am there, his apartment always takes me a bit by surprise. Ranger is very tough, very self-disciplined, and on the outside can be very hard. Nobody knows what he is like on the inside. So to enter his luxurious apartment, professionally decorated in soothing neutrals and warm woods, is a shock. As you enter the apartment, an antique hall table holds two silver trays, one for mail and one for keys, as well as a bouquet of fresh flowers. To the left is a half bath. To the right is a gourmet kitchen, complete with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. The kitchen is separated from the small dining room and living room by a breakfast bar. At the other end of the apartment is the master suite. This is composed of a bedroom which graces a king-sized bed with at least 1000 count sheets, a sumptuous bathroom with bath products in Ranger's signature Bulgari Green scent, a large custom-made walk-in closet and an office that is complete with a couch and a television. The apartment is maintained by Ranger's housekeeper, and I honestly don't think Ranger even notices the flowers, the high-end scented body wash or even the artwork. I'm not totally convinced that Ranger would consider the apartment a home. There are no pictures, books or magazines lying around. No clutter of any kind. In truth, I'm not sure where Ranger would consider home. I suspect it isn't defined by a physical space, but rather is someplace he carries inside of him.

I walked through Ranger's apartment to his office and turned on his computer. In the past there have been a few times when I needed rent money, and Ranger employed me to perform searches for Rangeman. I was well familiar with the search programs Rangeman used. I quickly accessed the different programs, putting in the data needed to see what I could discover about Paulo. After a couple of hours, I had the names of two holding companies and a list of properties. Some of these properties, as Ranger had suggested, were at the shore. I printed the information, shut down the computer and breathed in, getting a warm rush as I did so. There was the lingering scent of Bulgari Green from the last time Ranger was in the apartment. It is a scent that defines Ranger – I find it both erotic and comforting at the same time.

I left the apartment, locking the door behind me as I went. I phoned Tank on the way down to the parking garage to thank him and let him know that I was leaving. "I see you on the screen", he said. "Thanks for letting me know". Of course he saw me on the screen. Little can happen in the Rangeman building without it being monitored. Only the apartments and the washrooms were private.

At six o'clock I went to Pino's to meet Morelli for dinner. I got there first, working my way through the crowd at the bar to choose a booth at the back of the restaurant. I faced the door, all the better for Morelli to see me when he came in. The after-work crowd was there, comprised primarily of cops and health care staff coming off shift from the nearby Saint Francis hospital. I recognized a few of them. Spirits were high and the volume was loud. Two home delivery drivers were waiting at the kitchen doors for orders to be ready. Home pizza delivery was apparently a hopping business. No surprise, since in my estimation Pino's makes the best pizza in Trenton.

There was a little more sanity at the back of the restaurant. I watched the crowd for a few minutes, floating in my thoughts. Morelli entered the restaurant and walked back to join me at the booth. Wearing a black leather jacket over a pale blue button-down shirt and black jeans, the jacket hid the gun at his belt. More than one woman's eyes followed Morelli's progress to the back of the bar, and more than one woman gave me an envious look when Morelli gave me a quick kiss before sitting down in the booth. Morelli, as usual, was oblivious to the looks.

"You aren't too wet. How did you stay nice and dry today?" Morelli asked.

"I started moulding this morning after being out in the rain, so I went home and had a hot shower and dried off. Then I went to Rangeman and used some of their search programs to look for one of my skips", I said. Morelli got quiet, looked down at the table, and counted to ten.

"Did you have to go to Rangeman? Why couldn't you use the bonds office search programs?" he complained. The waitress came and took our order for a large pizza with olives, onions, peppers, sausage and pepperoni and a cola for Morelli and an iced tea for me.

"They aren't invasive enough. I needed something more in-depth."

"I hate you using their programs, Cupcake. I often wonder if that level of invasiveness is legal. What was Ranger doing while you were using his computer?" Morelli asked suspiciously.

"Relax. He's in Canada right now. He just said that I could use his apartment if I wanted to, to use his search programs if the bonds office programs weren't detailed enough."

"His apartment? Really? Couldn't you just use one of the offices there?" For all Morelli's griping, however, you could tell he was feeling more comfortable about it all knowing Ranger wasn't in the sphere of his bedroom while I was there. "Who are you going after this time?"

"Paulo Rosolli."

"Connie's cousin? That Paulo Rosolli?"

"Yup, the same one. There is a bit of a problem with his bond, so I am trying not to let Vinnie know we are going after him. Lula and I spent most of the day looking for him."

"What is wrong with the bond?"

"Connie wrote the bond. It was a high bond, but the collateral that she accepted was of very low value. Vinnie will have her job if we don't find Paulo and straighten this out."

"What did you find out on the search programs?" he asked.

"The usual. But I also found out two holding companies and several additional buildings and businesses the office search programs didn't find. There should be enough for me to investigate further over the next few days. In amongst my other skip chasing."

"Who else are you chasing?" he asked.

"I still have to bring in Pete Brodie, that mud-flinging pilot. And I am currently after Michael Minetti, the banana robber. I have a couple outstanding that I haven't even looked at yet as well. Any ideas on Minetti or Brodie?"

"Did you say a banana robber? Did he rob a grocery store?"

"Nope. He pretended that a banana in his pocket was a gun and held up a bank. He got himself shot and arrested for it." Morelli smiled. "We are having a bit of a problem picking him up, but it's okay as his mother keeps giving us banana bread and muffins whenever we go to visit her. The last batch of muffins even had chocolate chips in them. I've eaten so many banana muffins over the last few days I am starting to get tired of them. So do you have any ideas of where I should look?"

"Nope. I'm sure you'll find them." And that's the thing with me. I'm good at finding skips – eventually. But even though I have over a ninety percent success rate in retrieving skips, that rate is based on luck and tenacity rather than skill. I find that, if I bumble around enough, I am successful in capturing most of them sooner or later. It is a success rate of which I am proud. Especially because I know how brutal I am as a bounty hunter. If I was Ranger, I would have twice as many skips captured in half the time.

Our pizza came and we changed topics to the cars that we were going to see that evening. I showed Morelli the print-outs of the two car ads. He explained to me that, as long as they had the paperwork from the DMV, the vehicles should not be stolen. I thought it still wouldn't hurt having a cop along when I looked at them.

Finishing dinner, we went to my first choice of the two. The Jeep Liberty is a bit bigger than the Accord, which would make it a better choice for when I was transporting larger skips. The height would also make it easier for me to put reluctant skips in the car without whacking their heads against the roof. Of course, whacking heads against the roof of the car held some appeal with some of the skips I pick up. The Jeep had more panache than the Accord, and was more in tune with how I view myself. On the negative side, it did not have child locks on the rear doors which meant that skips would be able to let themselves out of the car at any red light or, if the skip was really desperate, while the vehicle was in motion. With child locks the doors to the backseat can only be opened from the outside. Having no child locks was a really big negative.

We walked up to the house, inspecting the car as we went. It was a dark blue. It looked like it was in good shape. Sure, a bit rusty, but the rust had been recently covered by spray paint so that it didn't look bad at all. The interior was clean and only smelled a little smoky from the previous owner's cigars. The fact that the car windows were down, airing out the car was not a good sign, but it seemed to have its floor pan and both of its bumpers. The owner said it had never been in an accident, then gave us the keys and climbed in the backseat. Both Morelli and I took it for a drive, me driving quickly but Morelli putting the pedal to the floor. It had a slight engine knock, but not too bad. The air conditioner seemed to work and so did the heater. All in all, a positive experience. We told the owner we would think about it and would get back to him later on in the evening to let him know what we decided.

We then went to see the Honda Accord. This was a much smaller car and would be better on gas. It had rear-seat child locks. This was a definite bonus. It also had less rust than the Jeep. The owner pointed out that the car had been oil sprayed each year since it was purchased new. This meant that it wouldn't get as rusty as quickly. That was a definite plus. Again, the interior was clean although this one did not have the smell of a cigar lingering in the air. It did not appear as though it had been in any accidents. We checked the air conditioner and found that it was working. We also checked the heater, and found that it was working, too. The seats were comfortable and did not look too dirty or worn. The owner gave us the keys and we took it for a test drive, Morelli again putting his foot to the floor to test speed. I think it must be a guy thing to want to see the pick-up and how fast a car will go. I know that I didn't really care, as long as the car went from A to B, preferably without stalling.

At the end of the drive Morelli and I sat in the Accord and compared the two cars. Although I really wanted the Jeep, I agreed with Morelli that the child safety locks and the rust-proofing made the Accord the better choice. We walked back up the driveway to the owner's house and went to speak to the owner. We told him that we were interested in the car, although we would like to have a mechanic look over the car before we bought it. Morelli called Bucky, the mechanic we have used for the past few years and acted as the go-between in arranging a time for the car to be dropped off for its inspection. Then Morelli looked over the paperwork to make sure that the car wasn't stolen. Deciding the car was safe to buy, Morelli then took over negotiations on the price of the car. He is such an alpha male. In truth, I was a little bummed he did this. But he put his hands on his hips as he negotiated, unknowingly revealing his gun. The owner, swallowing convulsively when he saw it, immediately agreed to sell the car for five hundred dollars less than the advertised price. Morelli negotiated the price down a further two hundred and fifty dollars. I was no longer irritated with him leading the negotiations. I don't think I would have fared so well without his help – or his gun.

Morelli drove me back to Pino's to pick up Ranger's car. "Do you want to come over to my place tonight?" he asked. I said no, saying I was tired, and I had a full day the next day and needed to have a good sleep. "I could help you sleep. Bob misses you!" Saying Bob missed me is code for Morelli that he wants a night of wild gorilla sex. And I knew that going over to Morelli's would mean that I would do lots of things, but sleeping would not be one of them.

"Bob will just have to go on missing me", I said.

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