TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
I met up with Lula outside the bonds office to go to Point Pleasant. "I'm ready!" she exclaimed. "I have sunscreen, a beach umbrella, magazines to read, towels to lie on, and a hat."
"But we won't be lying in the sun. Not only is it a little too cool yet, but we are going to work. We are checking out some of the properties that Paulo owns."
"Hunh. I knew that", she said. We went to Cluck in a Bucket for some lunch on the way out of town. I ordered a Clucky Burger combo with a diet cola, and Lula ordered a bucket of extra crispy, a large fry, two orders of biscuits and extra gravy, a side of coleslaw, and a diet cola. We sat in the parking lot as we ate our meal. I finished long before Lula. I got rid of my garbage and started the car. Lula could finish her meal while I drove.
The day was beautiful and traffic was light getting to the coast. "See, I knew this car would be lucky", Lula said. "You have had it for two days now, and you haven't had any bad luck yet".
"Actually, I have a vandal stalking me right now. He keeps harassing me on the phone to the point where I have to take my phone off the hook, and has progressed to spray painting nasty words both on my apartment bedroom window and on my parents' house while I am sleeping. While I don't think the car has brought me bad luck, I don't think it has brought me good luck either."
"But at least you brought Minetti in", Lula pointed out. That's true, but I think that was more related to him drinking a bottle of Jack's rather than due to any luck from my car. "And you haven't blown up your car yet."
We got to Point Pleasant and, due to the coolness in the temperature, were able to secure some on-street parking half a block away from the shore. If it had been the middle of summer it would have been impossible to park closer than a half dozen blocks away. We were happy to get the spot. It was a really good spot.
Once on the boardwalk, we strolled past all the booths that were still closed for the winter. I pulled out the list of businesses Paulo owned, and we decided we would tackle the businesses together. Going door-to-door, we talked to someone in each of the businesses. We introduced ourselves, and explained that Paulo had forgotten to show up for his court date. And I explained that he needed to come in to reschedule. No one at the businesses had seen Paulo recently, though. Most said the last time they had seen Paulo had been when they submitted their annual post-dated rent cheques. At least one person was lying, as Paulo had to be running numbers out of one of the stores. I didn't have a good idea who that person was, however, and it would be impossible to keep all of the businesses under surveillance, even if Lula and I split up.
We then tackled the residential properties. We got lucky with the first two residents – they were home. The first couple was in their sixties, newly retired and, judging by the bags in the front hallway, planning on taking a trip. Neither person recognized Paulo.
The second house contained a single lady with two toddlers. The toddlers were sucking their thumbs and hanging onto the pant legs of their mother. The mother did not recognize Paulo. She said she rented the house through a company. I gave her my card and asked her to call me if she saw Paulo, even if it was in the grocery store or walking along the street. "Is he dangerous?" she asked, clutching the hand of one of her toddlers and picking up the other for a cuddle.
"No. He was arrested on racketeering charges. It is just important for him to reschedule his court date as he is considered a felon until he does." We thanked her for her help and went to the third house. There was no answer at the door. We checked the driveway but there was no car. We looked in the windows but didn't see anyone.
We went to the fourth house and found the same thing. No car, nobody that we could see through the windows. We went on to the fifth house.
At the fifth house the lights were on and there was a car in the driveway. We crept around the house and looked in all the windows. Paulo was in the kitchen. It appeared that he was making dinner and he was alone. We crept around the house to the front door while I pulled out my cuffs and stun gun and put them in my pocket, all the time whispering-arguing about how we would approach Paulo. I wanted to go the direct route and simply introduce ourselves and ask for him to go to the station with us. Lula wanted us to pretend to be hookers. I didn't think that would fly. While Lula was dressed in her usual provocative manner, my jeans and modest t-shirt would quickly reveal I wasn't a 'ho. I didn't see any reason to pretend.
I rang the doorbell. Paulo came to the door. Lula cocked a hip and pushed out her chest in a manner reminiscent of her days as a 'ho. I did no such posturing. I introduced myself. "My name is Stephanie Plum and I represent Vincent Plum Bail Bonds." Lula took in a quick breath as I introduced myself. This was not going the way she had envisioned it. "You missed your court date and I have to take you back in to reschedule."
"I don't think so", Paulo said. He tried to close the door, but I got my foot in the way before he could shut it.
"You don't understand. If you don't come in to schedule, Connie could lose her job. She wrote bad bond for you. Now it's not just about you. It's about Connie as well." Lula looked at me quizzically at that, but luckily didn't question me about what I meant in front of Paulo.
At hearing about Connie's predicament, Paulo paused. "You and who else are taking me in?"
"Just the two of us", I replied.
"Just the two of you? How will it look if a member of the mob is taken in with only two females capturing him?"
"It will look like you care about your cousin. Look, you play, you pay. Lula and I have taken members of the mob in before, and we will do so again. It's your turn to come in now. I grabbed one of his wrists and snapped a cuff on him. He started to struggle. I took out my stun gun, quickly turned it on and stunned him. His body went stiff for a minute, then collapsed in a heap on the floor. He slowly wet himself and drool dribbled out of his mouth. I snapped the other cuff on and left Lula to look after him.
I went back into the kitchen and turned off the stove. I put the food back into the fridge and looked for the keys to the house. I found them tossed on the counter near the back door. Checking the locks to make sure the back door was secure, I walked back to Lula. I gave Lula the keys to my car and dragged Paulo out of the doorway so that I could shut and lock the front door. I sat on the steps and waited with Paulo as Lula went to get my car. Paulo slowly came to in the cool air, neurons starting to fire in sequence again. As he came to he let out an impressive stream of Italian swear words.
"Relax. You'll get bonded out again. But Connie won't be able to write bad bond this time. The collateral that you will need to secure the bond will have to be worth more. That shouldn't be a problem for you, though, as you have a number of properties you could use to secure the bond. When I get you to the station I will call Vinnie for you. I am leaving Connie out of the transaction so she doesn't get in trouble again. Just don't tell Vinnie what Connie did last time, okay? He doesn't know and we would like to keep it that way. I'm serious when I say she would lose her job if Vinnie knew."
Lula arrived and we moved Paulo to the back of the car, putting his seat belt on for him before shutting the door. I drove Lula back to the bonds office, letting her out so that she could go home for the day, then drove Paulo to the police station, moving him into the station and cuffing him to the bench. I got my body receipt and, once back in the car, phoned Vinnie to let him know that Paulo was available to be bonded out again. I then phoned Connie to let her know Paulo had been captured. "Thank God", she cried. "I have been losing sleep over this. I know that working for Vinnie isn't a great job, but it is my job and I am used to it. I know how to get around Vinnie and I can supplement my income out of petty cash any time I want. I don't want to lose it over something as silly as this."
I drove home, stopping at Giovichinni's on the way home. I picked up some beer, orange juice, bagels, butter, worthless fruit-flavoured cereal, six frozen microwave dinners, milk, cream, coffee, and more carrots and raisins for Rex. I hadn't been shopping in a while, and I hadn't brought home any doggie bags from my mother's when I left that morning. All I really had left to eat in the apartment were banana muffins, banana bread and a couple of bananas that were going black.
I carried my groceries up to my apartment. The door was shut and locked when I got there. I took that to be a good sign. I opened up the door, balancing the groceries and beer as I did so. I put the groceries on the kitchen counter and went and locked the door. Remembering my promise to shut the curtains at night, I walked over to the windows. I shut one side of the curtains, then walked over to the other side. By mistake I knocked a magazine off a side table as I walked past. As I bent down to pick it up I heard a crack followed by a shatter. Glass rained down on me as I heard two more reports. In shock, it took me a few seconds to figure out what had happened. Someone was shooting at me through the windows. I crawled on my belly over to the kitchen, cutting my arms as I made a path through the broken glass. Staying down, I pulled my purse off the counter in the kitchen and took out my stun gun and my pepper spray and put them within easy reach. Then I stretched up a hand and groped blindly for the phone. Getting it, I called Morelli first to report the shots. Then I called Ranger. I stayed huddled on the floor of the kitchen until they came.