After doing my research, having a leisurely breakfast with Ranger and a long hot shower, I was still early getting to the bonds office and was the first one there. I entered the office and started a pot of coffee. I looked over my notes again, choosing the order in which Lula and I would attack the outstanding skips. I thought, if we were lucky, we would be able to capture all three of the skips before three o'clock, when I had to return to Rangeman for another training session. I was not counting on this, however. While we were often lucky, it was usually only after several attempts at making captures we were successful.
I brought in the GPS system from the fleet car and programmed in the directions to each of the three locations. Then I had a cup of coffee and waited. I turned on Connie's computer and played three games of Solitaire and one of FreeCell before Connie showed up, fifteen minutes late. "Bless you. You put on coffee. I have been at the jail bonding out Candy McAdams. She was arrested for solicitation again. I got called out in the middle of my breakfast."
"No problem. I have just been here playing games on your computer." I helped myself to more coffee but I wasn't sure why I wanted it. I had so much coffee that morning my nerves were beginning to sing and my body was shaking. However, it was keeping me awake after such a sleepless night.
Lula sauntered into the office carrying a dozen doughnuts. "You're late", I said.
"Am I? It's nine thirty."
"I know. You are supposed to be here at nine."
"Aren't you Little Miss Cranky-Pants." I took a deep breath as Lula continued. "You're always cranky when you aren't getting some. Officer Hottie must be out of the picture still. You are living at Ranger's though, aren't you? Why aren't you getting any? You have the eye bags to go with staying up all night. What are you and Ranger doing at night if you aren't getting it on?"
"This morning I couldn't sleep so we stayed up drinking coffee talking about having kids."
"You're pregnant!" said Lula and Connie at the same time with a squeal.
"NO! I am not pregnant!" Connie and Lula both looked pointedly at my stomach. "I have gained a little weight since I shot Brodie. I am a stress eater, you know that. And I have had a little too much of … everything. I am not pregnant."
"Are you sure? Don't pregnant women eat a lot?" asked Lula.
"Yes, I am sure. You would have to get some to get pregnant, and I haven't had some in a month."
"Oh, girlfriend", said Lula. "No wonder you're cranky. I would be cranky as well if I hadn't had some in a month. Lula needs her honeys."
"If you aren't pregnant, why were you up talking about kids with Ranger last night?" asked Connie. "Are the two of you planning on starting a family?"
"No! God! What is with you guys?"
"Cranky-pants", Lula muttered under her breath.
"My family has been putting a lot of pressure on me to settle down with Morelli, quit my job, and become a stay-at-home mother. Morelli is putting a lot of pressure on me to get back together with him. He would also like me to quit my job and he is starting to make kid noises as well. I think, with him, the kid noises are more related to the fact he knows I would not be able to continue skip chasing if I was a mother than it is out of any desire to have children. The hours are not conducive to parenting and the work is too dangerous. I have been finding it all a little much to handle, especially on top of Brodie. I haven't been sleeping and when I woke up and could not go back to sleep last night, Ranger stayed up with me talking it out. That's it. Nothing more. I am not getting together with Ranger nor am I getting together with Morelli right now. I need to get my head screwed on straight first."
"So how did you leave it with Morelli?" asked Connie as she helped herself to a second cup of coffee and sorted through the doughnuts to get a sour cream glazed.
"We are going to talk again in two or three weeks, when we both have had a chance to think about what we want." I gave in and pulled out a jelly filled doughnut, sighing in pleasure as I bit into it. It had red jelly in the middle. The good kind. Much better than the lemon-filled ones.
"What do you want?" asked Lula.
"Honestly? I don't know. I like the fact Morelli is willing to make a commitment, but I don't feel he truly accepts all of me."
"What about Ranger? That man is fine. I wouldn't mind getting it on with him", said Lula.
"I love how Ranger accepts all of me, but the negative is he is an even greater commitment-phobe than I am. I could put years into the relationship and have nothing at the end of it."
"Even with commitment the relationship could end and you would have nothing. Think of divorces. Unless you want kids. Then you would have something", said Connie as she looked at me over the rim of her coffee cup.
"NO! I don't want kids. They are a lot of work and I don't feel the rewards are worth it. I don't even like having the responsibility of a dog. I am a much better hamster owner. They don't require much care."
"Hunh. You have a problem", said Lula.
Tell me about it, I thought as I helped myself to another doughnut.
Lula and I drove first to Hamilton Township to pick up Helena Wilson. I told Lula about Helena on the way. "So she stole someone's credit rating, only to be caught by the person she stole the rating from. Is that karma, or what?" I asked.
"Yeah, karma's a bitch."
We pulled into an apartment building complex. There were five apartments around a circle with a roadway and parking lots joining the buildings. There was a playground in the hub. Children were playing loudly as they raced between the swings and the slide and the climbing equipment. Mothers huddled together in communal misery. I shuddered as I looked at the children. Not for me, I thought.
We headed for building C and parked in the lot in front of the main doors. We got a good spot since most of the residents were at work. Walking inside, I found there was no elevator and Wilson lived on the fourth floor. I sighed looking at the stairs. I would feel every single one of those extra pounds.
We got to the top of the stairs, and Lula and I stopped to catch our breath. "I thought Ranger would have you running laps, now that you are working part time for Rangeman", said Lula.
"No, I haven't had to work on cardio. He hasn't seen me climb stairs in a while, so he doesn't know how out of shape I am. He has, however, had me taking self-defense lessons. Apparently I have been cranky with him as well and he says beating someone up will make me feel better."
"Who are you beating up?" asked Lula as we started walking down the hall to Wilson's apartment.
"Mainly Ranger, although I have also worked with Tank. Ranger and Tank feel that, if I am used to beating up someone of Tank's size, nothing will intimidate me."
"Tank is the honey out of all my honeys who was the hardest to forget", said Lula. A couple of years ago Lula and Tank were engaged. It was a situation, engineered by Lula, which panicked Tank. He adopted three cats partly to help keep himself calm. Lula is allergic to cats and put out the ultimatum for Tank to choose between the cats and her. Tank chose the cats. I am nothing compared to the Cranky-Pants Lula was after her relationship with Tank ended. "If you use your signature move on him and sack him, can you take pictures while he is rolling around on the ground?" Apparently Lula is still a little cranky where Tank is concerned.
We knocked on Wilson's door, listening for sounds within. I could hear the sound of feet shuffling towards the door and then a pause as she looked out the peephole. I knocked on the door again. There was silence. "Helena Wilson, we know you are in there. We can hear you."
"What do you want?" she asked, her voice muffled by the door.
"Bond enforcement. You missed your court date and we are taking you back to court so you can reschedule."
"I missed it on purpose. I don't want to go to jail."
"That is not how it works, though. If you go to court, you have the chance of avoiding jail or having a lesser sentence. However, if you miss your court date it makes you look bad and, if you do it on a regular basis, it will give you a tougher sentence." She didn't really have a chance at avoiding jail. I had seen her file and with fifteen counts of theft she was as guilty as sin. But I wouldn't tell her that.
"Let me get dressed first. I am still in my pyjamas."
"That is all right with me, but you need to let us in the apartment before you change."
"Can I see some identification first?" she asked.
I got out my fake badge and quickly held it up to the peephole on the door. "Okay? If you open the door, I can give you one of my business cards as well."
"I don't need your business cards. They are easy to make up. The identification is harder to forge." I smiled to myself, thinking how easy it had been to go online and get a fake badge made. Yet, it was exactly the belief the badges were official that made them so useful.
I didn't hear anything from the other side of the door for a few minutes, then I heard a thump. Lula knocked on the door again. "Helena!" I called, then listened at the door. I heard the sounds of weeping. "It isn't that bad! You just have to go to court and get your date rescheduled. We can get you bonded out again today if you want."
The crying grew louder. I looked at Lula. She mouthed "pathetic" to me. I tried the door. It was still locked.
"Helena, you have to open the door."
"I don't want to."
"I am embarrassed. All those mothers out at the playground will see me, and they will know I am a bad person."
"If you let us in and accompany us down to the car nicely, we will not put the cuffs on you until we get to the car. That way you aren't embarrassed in front of the other residents. I am sorry, but I have to put the cuffs on you before we get to the police station. It is protocol." It wasn't really policy that I needed to bring in felons in cuffs, but I was feeling pretty cranky. Too little sleep behind me and too many life altering decisions ahead of me, and I wanted to take it out on somebody.
After a few more minutes of sobbing I heard the door unlock. I opened the door to see an older woman in fuzzy pink penguin-printed pyjamas huddled on the floor in tears. Lula and I walked in and shut the door. "Now, what do you want to wear?" I asked Helena as she continued to sit on the floor weeping. She just shook her head as she cried harder. "Lula is a wardrobe genius. She will find something good for you to wear."
The woman looked at Lula and her too-small fluorescent pink shirt that revealed a large portion of her stomach and matching skirt that barely covered her doodad, with her strappy silver four inch stilettos, and grimaced in horror. She got up and led us to her bedroom. She went to the closet and pulled out a pair of black khakis and a pale blue polo shirt. She went to the bathroom and washed her face, skimmed on some makeup and got dressed for the day. She came out and took a deep breath. "I'm as ready as I will ever be", she said. She headed for the door.
"Won't you need your purse for when you are released on bail again?" I asked. "You will need money to catch a cab home and you will need your keys in order to get back in your apartment."
She grabbed her purse from the table in the front hall and, squaring her shoulders, walked towards the door. I took her keys from her and turned off all the lights, locking the door behind us as I shut the door.
Lula led Helena down the hall to the stairs, and down the stairs to the lobby. I followed the two, watching to make sure Helena did not bolt. It was risky letting her leave the building without cuffs or shackles on, but it was a calculated risk. With the amount of panic and distress Helena was feeling, I did not think she would have gone willingly if I had put her in cuffs and shackles. Even so, it made it a little more nerve-wracking for me to not have her restrained. I was trying to be on my best guard to ensure she did not get away.
We walked through the lobby, saying hello to a senior sitting on one of the benches as we passed. Walking out to the parking lot, I thought about my situation with Morelli again. My frustration level rose. When we got out to the car, I opened the rear passenger door. I put on the cuffs, letting her keep her hands to her front, then shackled her to the floor. Lula looked a little surprised at this, but thankfully did not question me on it in front of Helena. Even so, I looked at Lula and said "a month. I have been without it for a month." She nodded her head. She understood. Miss Cranky-Pants at work.
"You know what you need? You need a doughnut. You need happy food. Ranger don't stock no happy food at his place. You need some happy food."
"I would like a doughnut", said Helena from the back seat.
"I am not having a doughnut. None of my jeans will do up. And besides, Ranger bought me a chocolate bar the other day."
"No – get out! He bought you a chocolate bar? He must have it bad. That totally goes against his philosophy. What did you have to do for the chocolate bar?"
"I didn't have to do anything. I was just having a bad day, so he bought me a chocolate bar."
"Was it good?"
"I don't know. That was the day I was drugged and I never got to eat it. He said he will buy me another one sometime."
"Huh. I'll believe it when I see it. He don't believe in no dessert. I think it was just fluke that he got you the one. Maybe you aren't remembering correctly. Maybe he didn't get you one and the drugs messed with your brain to make you think you got one."
"No, I don't think so. He really got me one."
"What is the big deal about a chocolate bar?" asked Helena from the back seat.
"This guy we work with believes dessert is devil's work and should not be eaten. He has arranged for me to have dessert before when I have had a bad day, but this is the first time he has bought me a chocolate bar. All I got to do was smell it, though."
"How did it smell?" asked Lula.
"Like heaven." All three of us sighed at the same time. I drove through the drive-through window of the doughnut shop and ordered a twenty pack of doughnut holes. Lula and I each took one and passed the box back to Helena. She ate all the cinnamon-dusted ones before handing it back to Lula. That's okay. She left the chocolate cake ones for Lula and me.
When we got to the police station I left Lula to guard the car and walked Helena into the holding area. I got my cuffs and shackles back, picked up my body receipt, and walked out to the car. Lula was sound asleep, her snoring shaking the car with its ferocity. That was the first thing I noticed. The second thing I noticed was that the tires looked awfully flat. I ran up to the car and looked down at the tires, only to see huge gaping holes. I walked around the car and saw there was a matching hole in each tire. As I got to the windshield, I noticed a note tucked under the windshield wiper blade. Pulling out the note, I read "This time your tires were slashed. Next time it will be your pretty little face. Contact Jay Technologies and tell them you were mistaken. Tell them they should hire me." I opened the front passenger door. "Lula!" I said, "did you see anything?"
"What? I didn't see nothin'. I was just sitting here keeping watch of the car, but I didn't see nothin'. What happened? What was I supposed to see?"
"Somebody knifed the tires of the car and left a note for us. Are you sure you didn't see anything?"
"No and I was awake the whole time."
"You were not awake. I could hear you snoring three cars away."
"Hunh. I don't snore."
"Well, we are now stuck around the police station for a lot longer since we now have to wait until Morelli writes this up and Rangeman gets another car out to us."
"I'm not waiting around you, Miss Cranky-Pants. I'm calling Connie for a ride. When you want to go out chasing skips again, let me know." She picked up her phone and texted Connie. A few seconds later she said "Connie will be here in a few minutes."
"Heaven help you wanting to stick around with me. It's not like I want to see Morelli right now. No, but I have to see him because someone, I am not naming any names, fell asleep when they were guarding the car."
Lula's lip went out in a pout and she muttered under her breath "Cranky-Pants".
I called Morelli. "Hi. I've got bad news. The slasher has struck again. I was dropping off a skip in the precinct and, when I got back out to the car, all four of my tires were slashed. He either has been following us and I just didn't pick up on it, or it was a stroke of luck on his behalf, because I am not even driving my car yet. I am still driving one of the fleet vehicles."
"Where are you?"
"I am in the precinct parking lot. Lula is here with me. You had better come soon before she disappears."
"Stay in the car until you see me. I will be out in five minutes."
I climbed back in the car and reread the note. My hands were shaking. I turned to Lula. "Morelli will want to talk to you when he gets out."
"Well, he'd better get out here fast or Officer Hottie will miss his chance. Connie will be here soon."
"I told him to hurry." We waited in the car, each looking separate directions away from each other, not talking for a few minutes. "Look, I am sorry I am so grumpy lately. I'm trying not to be, but it seems like in every area of my life I am failing right now. I am struggling to regroup and I am sorry if I am taking it out on you."
"Hey, girlfriend, I could never stay mad at you for long. You are no fun to be around right now, but I understand where you are coming from. We have all been there. Well, I haven't, but I can imagine what you are going through. I've got a good imagination. It is one of my better characteristics. In fact, I was thinking about taking a creative writing course at night school. I could write about your relationship problems. What do you think?" I agreed with her that she has a good imagination although privately I thought I didn't want her writing about my relationship problems.
Connie got there before Morelli, but with some fast talking I was able to get them to wait with me until Morelli got there. While we were waiting for Morelli, I sent a text to Ranger. "The slasher struck again, this time in the parking lot at the precinct. He left a note threatening me. I'm okay. Morelli is on his way out of the precinct as we speak. I will need some help now that all four tires have giant holes in them."
Ranger responded immediately. "Do you want me to come?"
"I want someone to come, otherwise I am stranded here at the station. And I am not sure what to do about the car. It will need to be towed using a flatbed and I am not sure where you want it to go."
"I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Tank is arranging a tow truck to come and pick up the car. Am I driving Lula as well?"
"No. She doesn't want to hang around the station. Connie is here to pick her up."
Morelli came jogging up to the side of the car, pulling me out and giving me a hug. "I am having the guards pull the security footage of the precinct to see if we caught the slasher in action." He walked around the car and looked at the holes. He whistled. "This takes some serious rage to be able to effect that kind of damage."
Lula started easing towards Connie's car, hoping to sneak away before Morelli could nail her with questions. She was not that lucky. "Lula, I know you weren't in the station while Steph was dropping off the skip. What were you doing?"
"It was the strangest thing. I was guarding the car, and I was doing a good job of it, but I didn't see anything go down. It was like aliens shot laser beams down from the sky and hit those tires."
"Really? That's what you are going with? Aliens?"
"Well, it was aliens who could write in English, as he left a note under the windshield." I held the note out to Morelli and let him read it, watching as steam came out his ears and his face turned red. He looked at his shoe and I knew he was counting to ten to try to get control of himself.
"It's just a guy blowing off steam", I said in my best pacifying tone of voice. "He isn't really going to cut me up."
Ranger drove up in his Porsche Turbo, parking beside me, and bounded out of the car. He nodded and said hi to everyone and came over to stand beside me. He gave me a quick hug and said "are you okay?"
"Yes. I am safe, Lula is safe, only your car was hurt."
"Cars don't matter. You matter." He left my side and walked around the car, looking at the tires. "You said there was a note?" Morelli handed it to him. Ranger read it and his eyes turned tight in his "not happy" look. "Did you find out if there was anything useful on the security camera footage?"
"No, I left them pulling it when I came out, and I haven't gone back in to see it yet." Lula and Connie started sidling over to Connie's car again, ready to make a getaway. "Lula thinks it was aliens, however, and Steph thinks it was just someone blowing off steam."
"I didn't say that was what I thought. I was just giving you that thought to calm you down before you give yourself a coronary. And I think Lula wants to go and I am sure Connie has to get back to the office. Do you want to ask Lula any more questions before she goes?"
"Did you see anything at all?" Morelli asked.
"No. I was guarding the car, but I must have rested my eyes for a few seconds or so and missed all the excitement."
"What good are you at guarding the car if you fall asleep?" asked Morelli in an irritated voice.
"I didn't fall asleep. I rested my eyes for a few minutes. There is a difference. Can I go now?" she asked. She added, under her breath, "Mr. Cranky-Pants."
"What did you call me?" asked Morelli.
"Mr. Cranky-Pants. And I've had enough of your cranky-pants attitude. I'm going now. Even filing is better than this." She got in the car with Connie and they quickly drove away.
"Don't you think you were a little hard on her?" I asked Morelli.
"I am not a cranky-pants."
"Well, you are doing a very good impression of one. But if it makes you feel any better, she also called me one all afternoon. I'm not sure if she will want to ride shotgun with me tomorrow."
"That's good. I don't want you to go skip chasing again until this guy is caught." He took a couple Rolaids from his pocket and popped them in his mouth.
"And if you don't catch him?"
"Then you don't go skip chasing. You stay at Rangeman doing your job where you are safe."
I bristled at him telling me what to do. "You should know by now there is nowhere safe. I am going skip tracing tomorrow, with or without Lula."
"If Lula can't or won't go," said Ranger, "I will take someone off patrol and send them out with you tomorrow. You shouldn't go alone. It just isn't safe. Remember what I taught you. You always have to have someone watching your back. Always. That holds true whether you have someone threatening you or not."
The tow truck arrived and put the Rangeman vehicle on the flatbed. Ranger made arrangements with the driver to take the car to the service station the company uses, then turned back to Morelli and me. Morelli and I were glaring at each other. "You are not telling me what to do", I said.
"Someone has to. You are a walking disaster", said Morelli.
"I do just fine without you. This is exactly why I said we need to think about where we want to go with our relationship. You don't respect me for who I am and what I can do."
"I respect you. I would just respect you a hell of a lot more alive than if you were dead. And it is my job, as both a police officer as well as your boyfriend, to make sure you stay alive."
"But we aren't boyfriend and girlfriend any more, remember? We are taking a break." I swear I could see Morelli's blood begin to boil. He walked away from Ranger and me, flapping his arms and muttering to himself. On my side, I stared down at my shoe, doing some deep breathing to ensure I didn't start to cry. I wondered how many times we would have to hurt each other before something was resolved.
Ranger put his arm around me and asked quietly "are you okay?"
I nodded my head, still looking down at my shoe. I gave a big sniff and said "damn allergies."
"What are you allergic to?" asked Ranger.
"Arguments", I replied.
We walked into the precinct, following Morelli into an interrogation room at the back of the building. He disappeared, coming in with his laptop a few minutes later. He accessed the footage and fast forwarded to when you could see me drive in and take Helena out of the vehicle and walk her to the station. You could see Lula getting herself comfortable and then nothing for a few seconds. Then you could see all the seagulls that were walking around the parking lot all take off. "What happened there?" asked Morelli.
"I don't know for sure, but I would have to guess it was Lula starting to snore. She always says she doesn't, but it is quite loud. You know Lula. She doesn't do things by halves." We watched a little further, and you could see Lundel come up and look in the window. Lula didn't make any indication she saw him. Looking around to make sure there was no one around, Lundel stabbed each of the tires. He took the paper out of his pocket and tucked it under the wiper. Then, you could see him walking nonchalantly away as I came out of the station and walked towards the car.
"You just missed him", said Morelli, dazed. "He could have killed you, right in the parking lot." He reached into his pocket and pulled out another two Rolaids.
"But he didn't. He doesn't want to kill me. He just wants a job where he can steal money again."
"But he could kill you", said Morelli. "His attempt to kidnap you the day before yesterday shows that he is not as benign as you are making him out to be. I am not sure why he has de-escalated the threat. He vandalized your apartment and car, then made a huge jump and drugged and tried to kidnap you. Now we are back to vandalizing your car. It doesn't make sense."
"No, it doesn't make sense. I don't know if this guy has a plan, or whether he is just going by the seat of his pants", said Ranger. "It seems like he starts out with vandalism and, when Steph doesn't get upset, he escalates into something more. Then, when he figures she is good and scared, he is happy with vandalism again. It is an unusual pattern that does not make sense with how we normally view criminals. The good news is we now have him on tape in one of the vandalisms as well as in the drugging and kidnapping. We will catch him. Eventually."
"In the meantime, I really would like you to stay at Rangeman, Cupcake. My instinct says this guy is dangerous", said Morelli.
"You have a hyperactive instinct", I said.
"Say what you will, but I want you staying at Rangeman."
"And I want to be able to do my job. I promise I will be careful. You would want to be able to do your job if you were in my shoes."
"But I am a cop. I am trained to deal with these sorts of things."
"No, you are really not. Otherwise you would be handling this thing much more calmly than you are. And just because you are a cop does not mean your job is more important than mine. My job plays a valuable role in society as well."
He took a deep breath and threw his hands up in the air. "I can't talk to you. We just end up arguing." He took out another couple of Rolaids, chewed them, stood up and said "I'll see you out. I need to go visit Lundel's home to see if he has shown up yet."