I made it on time to pick up Lula. She was only five minutes late, which was ten minutes before I expected her. I made it a policy a long time ago to ask Lula to show up fifteen minutes before I need her as she is always late. She parked her car in the bonds office parking lot and hurried over to my car. "Your car looks good. Did someone wash it?"
"Yeah. The service station cleaned the car on the outside, and Hal detailed the inside when he picked it up yesterday. They have that washing bay in the underground lot at Rangeman, and Hal did a good job. It looks great, doesn't it?"
"It's the best that I have ever seen it. They were even able to take the rust off."
"No, that is courtesy of Ranger. When it was taken in for new tires he had some bodywork done on the car at the same time. He said it was for pain and suffering from what Lundel has put me through."
"This is like a full service job. The perks are great." From where I was sitting, though, the perks didn't look so good. It was one thing to replace my tires. I can see why Rangeman felt a need to do so. However, it is another thing to do the bodywork on the car. I called Ranger while I waited for Lula, and he said I was representing Rangeman and needed to have a car that wasn't falling apart. It made me feel kind of icky though. It went against my need to be independent.
"Are you a cranky-pants again today?" asked Lula.
"Nope. No cranky-pants here today." I smiled.
"It's about time. Ranger or Morelli?"
"I should have known. Morelli puts a satisfied smile and a glow on your face. Ranger puts a smile on your face that makes you the envy of every woman around. You are more relaxed after Ranger as well." Hunh. Something to think about. "Let's go get this loser", said Lula.
I drove into the Burg. The traffic was light but building due to the hour. I tried to see if I had a tail but could not see any suspicious cars. I drove to Victor Wu's house, parking in front. We sat in the car a moment. The neighbourhood was much like my parents'. Semi-detached houses and largish trees lining the street, cracked sidewalks decorated with kids' drawings in chalk, cheery flowers in small gardens. Wu's house was the right half of a red brick house decorated with green shutters and door. The house was still decorated for Christmas despite the fact that it was now May. We walked up to the door and rang the doorbell. After a few minutes we rang the doorbell again. We looked to the driveway and saw a car there. We went to the windows and peered inside. We could see straight through to his kitchen. Wu was sitting at the table, listening to tunes with his earphones on, eating breakfast. I rang the doorbell again. No answer.
"Stay here", I said. "I will try the back door." I left Lula at the front ringing the doorbell and walked around the back to the kitchen door. I tried the door and was lucky. It opened. I walked in the house, holding my badge in the air as I said "bond enforcement". I put my badge away and reached into my bag for a set of cuffs.
Wu was a tiny man, short and slight in stature. He jumped up, still not coming to my eye level. "I'm not going in. I did not do anything wrong."
"See, here's the thing. I agree with you. Dogs should not be pooping on your lawn and leaving the mess". I tried not to think of the number of times I did exactly that when I was walking Bob. This is one of those reasons I don't think I make a good dog owner. I don't like carrying a full bag of poop with me. "I am sure the judge will also see it that way. However, you need to tell the judge what happened and why you did what you did in order to have your charges dropped. Until you do so, you are a wanted felon and it is my job to bring you in." Lula rang the doorbell again. I yelled at her to come around the back. She rang the doorbell again over the sounds of my yelling.
"Oh. But the charges are bogus."
"That may be, but you have to tell that to the judge and let him or her decide whether the charges should be dropped. You cannot decide that for yourself. And I have to tell you, the longer you skip bail, the worse it will look for you." What the heck. I had used that line on Helena and it had seemed to work.
"I have to go to work. I have a big day planned."
"I am sorry to hear that. I can have Connie waiting at the police station ready to bond you out again so you can get on with your day. However, you do need to go in and you need to go in now." Lula rang the doorbell again.
"Lula, come around to the back. The door is unlocked", I shouted out.
A few minutes later Lula popped her head in the door. She looked at Wu. "Aren't you the cutest little thing", she said. "I could just eat you up."
Wu swallowed audibly. "I have to change out of my housecoat", he said. He was wearing a Spongebob Squarepants housecoat and Bart Simpson slippers.
"Sure", I said. "We will wait down here for you." We watched him walk up the stairs and into the bedroom. We heard him rustling around. "Stay here", I whispered. I went outside and waited in the backyard. Sure enough, a few minutes later an emergency ladder was thrown out the window and Wu backed himself out the window and down the ladder. He put one foot on the ground and I crept up on him, snapped a cuff around his wrist, grabbed his other hand, and snapped the cuff on his other wrist while I still had the element of surprise. "Gotcha", I whispered in his ear. I walked him to the door of the house. "Got him", I called out to Lula. "There is a ladder out the bedroom window that needs to be brought in before the windows are all shut and the house locked up. I saw his keys and wallet on the front hall table. I will take him out to the car."
I started towards the car, stopping in the shadows when I saw a dog owner and his dog stop on Wu's front lawn. The dog hunched over. "Shh", I cautioned Wu. I got out my phone and started taking a video of the dog pooping and the man leading the dog away. I waited until the man was out of range, then said to Wu "let me guess, that is the man you mailed the poop to."
"Yes. He has become more brazen about leaving the poop since I was arrested. He knows I cannot do anything about it now."
"We've got him now. We will report him when we go to the police station in a few minutes." I waited until there was no one on the street who could see Wu taken away in handcuffs, and led him to the car. I sat him inside and put his seatbelt on.
By the time I was finished Lula had locked up the house and was walking to the car. She paused at the pile of dog doo doo that had been left on the lawn. "Disgustin'", she said. Shaking her head she got in the car.
"I got a video of the man not picking it up. I will show it to the police when we get there so I might be a few minutes." I drove Lula to the bonds office, dropping her off with the arrangement that I would pick her up after taking care of Wu.
I parked the car in the precinct parking lot and walked Wu into the station. After securing him to the bench and retrieving my cuffs, I got my body receipt and headed for the main doors. Meeting the officer on duty, a Leanne Gonzales, I explained the situation to her. I took the video clip of the man and his dog and sent it to her email address. After filling out the paperwork, I left the building happy with my day. After all, we had caught our skip, we had made a formal complaint which will help Wu when he finally does go to court, and I had been able to avoid Morelli. All in all, a good morning.
I drove back to the bonds office and met up with Lula and Connie. I helped myself to a coffee and sat down on the couch in front of Connie's desk. I often think of this as Lula's couch, as this is where you will generally find her when she is in the office. She is often stretched out reading magazines, talking on her phone, or periodically even sleeping. What she is generally not doing is filing. She has to be the worst file clerk ever. Luckily we have mostly gone digital. Vinnie took an old clunker of a computer out of the collateral lock up for Lula to use. It was hardwired into the internal network so Lula could use it for electronic filing. I don't think I have ever seen Lula use it for anything other than Solitaire and looking up her online horoscopes though.
"You know what we need? We need a doughnut to celebrate our capture."
"I definitely don't need a doughnut", I said. "I tried on my jeans again this morning, and I still could not do up my top button."
"That's your problem. That is why I always wear stretch clothes. Then I don't have to worry about no damn buttons. Now me, I need a doughnut." I thought she wore stretch clothes because that is the only way she would be able to fit her large size body into her petite size wardrobe. Looking at her I often am partially waiting for the lycra to snap and the clothes to tear in a Hulk-like fashion.
Lula and I drove to the Tasty Pastry and parked in the side parking lot. We went into the bakery and smelled the happy endorphin-releasing smells. "Now tell me you don't need a doughnut", she said.
"I don't need a doughnut and I am going outside to wait for you just so I don't succumb", I said.
Marianne, behind the counter, said "I was like that when I was expecting my first as well. Don't worry, Steph, morning sickness only lasts three or four months."
"I'M NOT PREGNANT!" I said, looking down at my stomach in dismay. "I've just eaten too many doughnuts."
"And everything else", added Lula helpfully.
"Yeah, and everything else", I agreed dejectedly. "I will wait for you outside", I said to Lula.
I walked outside the bakery, scrolling through my messages on my phone. My mother phoned, my friend Mary Lou called, and my sister called. I would call them all back this afternoon. I was in the process of putting my phone back in my purse when I was yanked backwards from behind and a knife was placed at my throat. "Lundel?" I asked.
"Yes. You are not doing what you are supposed to. I asked you to do a simple task when I vandalized your apartment and you failed to do it. I tried to scare the pants off you by drugging you and kidnapping you, yet you still failed to do it. So I followed you yesterday and tried to scare you again. Yet you still failed to do it. So now I will hold a knife to your throat until you call Jay Technologies and get them to hire me."
I shifted slightly and felt the knife dig into my throat. "You know they won't listen to me, right? I wasn't the one who made the recommendation to Jay. I just did the research. Any rescinding of that recommendation would have to be done by someone else."
"They will listen to you. You can call the person at Rangeman who made the recommendation and get them to rescind it."
"I can do that. Let me get my phone."
"You can use my phone."
"I could, but my phone has the person I need to talk to on speed dial. I don't know his number off by heart." That was a lie. I knew Ranger's number. I just didn't want to put the number in Lundel's caller memory.
I slowly took out my phone, feel a prick in my throat as my hand neared my gun. Thinking quickly, I phoned Ranger. "Hi, Ranger. I am at the Tasty Pastry right now, and Lundel is right behind me with a knife to my throat asking you to rescind the recommendation to Jay Technologies."
"Are you okay?"
"Let me talk to him." I passed the phone over to Lundel.
As I did so, Lula came around the corner of the bakery with a large doughnut box in her hand, picking her way over the broken pavement. "Yoo hoo, Steph! I know you did not want any doughnuts so I only bought you one." She looked up from where she was standing and her eyes grew wide. "Holy shit. What is happening? Police! Help!" She started running around in circles.
It worked well as a diversion. I bucked and fought, just like Ranger had taught me, hissing out a breath of pain as his knife dragged across my neck. I tried to disarm him, but he knocked me to the ground, slicing open my arm on the way down. As I reached the pavement, he kicked me hard in the ribs, yelling that I had not seen the last of him, and took off for the back of the building. I could hear a car start and leave through the back exit. I slowly sat up as Lula got off the phone. "Take it easy, Steph. I called everybody. There will be help here soon."
I reached for my phone, picking up to talk to a frantic Ranger. "Sit rep", he barked out.
"I'm okay, just cut. I let him get away. I'm sorry."
"You are still alive and that is all that matters. I just heard the call go out on the scanner, so you should have everybody there in a few minutes. I will be there in about two."
"When you said you called everybody, who exactly did you call?" I asked Lula suspiciously.
"Morelli, Ranger, Rangeman, 911. Everybody."
Fuck. I would have to see Morelli again.
"Wouldn't you know it? The one time when you actually want a policeman at a doughnut shop you can't find one. Usually they hang around in droves", said Lula.
Ranger tore into the parking lot, parking haphazardly beside where I was still sitting on the ground. His face turned white as he ran up to me and looked at the cut on my neck. "I'm okay. Can you help me up?"
"No, the ambulance will be here soon. I think you should stay down there until it arrives."
"I just need some stitches in my arm and I think my ribs are bruised."
"You evidently haven't seen your neck yet."
"No, but it burns a bit. It could have been much worse."
"I came out of the Tasty Pastry and was attacked from behind. Lundel held a knife to my throat and told me that I had to rescind the recommendation. I told him that would have to come from you. I called you. When I passed the phone over to Lundel so that you could talk to him, Lula came out of the building and created a great diversion. I used all those self-defense lessons and fought back. I tried to disarm him but was unsuccessful. He scraped his knife across my neck, cut my arm and kicked my ribs before he ran away. His car was parked behind the bakery and he got away through the back exit." The ambulance came racing in and parked behind Ranger's car. The paramedics ran over to me. "It looks worse, apparently, than it really is."
Morelli came running up through the gathering throng in the parking lot. "I will never live this one down in Burg history", I muttered to Ranger.
Morelli turned white when he saw me. "It's you. It's not your job, it's just you. You collect catastrophes like some women collect diamonds and jewelry. You cannot keep doing this." The paramedics helped me to my feet. Morelli saw my wince as I moved and his brows came down in a frown. "One day I will be called out and you won't be hurt. You will be dead."
"You sound like my mother." The paramedics escorted me over to the ambulance and sat me inside. "Aren't you going to ask me what happened?"
"Okay, what happened?"
"It was Lundel. I was walking around the building looking at my messages on my phone when he attacked me from behind. He jumped me. When Lula created this great diversion, we fought and he tagged me with the knife. He kicked me in the ribs before he got away. That's it."
"See, you collect catastrophes. You are working at Rangeman now. That is supposed to be the safe place to work."
"There are no safe places to work." The paramedics had finished field bandaging my arm and were cleaning off the cut on my neck. I sucked in some air at the sting. I looked at Morelli, red in face in his anger, and Ranger behind him, acting like a rock. "Can you call my mother and let her know I am okay? It will only take a few minutes for this to get to her and she will be ironing all afternoon if you don't call. She will probably iron all afternoon anyway, but at least she will be a little less worried." My mother uses ironing to tranquillize herself much in the same way I use food.
"I would suggest you go to the hospital", said one of the paramedics. "Your cut on your arm needs sutures and you should have your ribs x-rayed. Do you want to go in the ambulance?"
"No, I'm good, thanks. I can drive."
"You are not driving!" bit out Morelli.
"I'll take her", said Ranger. "Lula can drive Stephanie's car."
I took my keys and gave them to Lula. "If you drive to the bonds office, I will pick up my car there later this afternoon." She took the keys. Making sure I didn't need her any more, she got out of there before the profusion of police officers upset her even more.
I turned and looked at Ranger and Morelli. "Who will drive me to the hospital?" I asked.
"I have to stay here for a few minutes and do my cop thing", said Morelli. He turned to Ranger. "Can you take her?"
"Yes." He signed the paperwork for the ambulance releasing me into his care, and helped me down from the back of the ambulance. I turned white as I moved my ribs.
"Don't forget to call my mother", I reminded Morelli.
"I'm not calling her. Call your own damn mother."
"You shouldn't swear when you are talking about mothers. You can go to hell for that", I said.
"I am already there", Morelli answered.
The ambulance left the scene, followed by Ranger and me. On the way to the hospital I called my mother. "Hi, Mom." My mom was in tears.
"Steph? I heard you died.
"You shouldn't believe everything you hear. I am not dead. I am not even close to being dead. I have a cut arm that needs sutures, and what I think are bruised ribs but which will get x-rayed to make sure they aren't broken, and a scratch across my throat. No big deal, but I am calling because I promised I would try to call when something happens."
"I heard your head was cut almost completely off."
"I just got a little scratch, Mom. They won't even stitch it because it really is nothing. It hurt more when they put the antiseptic on it than it did when it was happening. My head is definitely still attached."
"As long as you are all right. Do you want to come for dinner? You could bring Joseph."
"Mom, you know Joe and I aren't together any more. And I don't want to come for dinner tonight. I am not sure what time I will get finished at the hospital. It depends upon how many emergencies come in. I will come another night for dinner, all right?" When I got her agreement, I told her I had to hang up as we were almost at the hospital. "I never thought I would be as happy to get to the hospital as I was to have an excuse to get out of that conversation", I complained to Ranger. He just smiled.
He parked the car and we walked slowly into Emergency together. "How bad do your ribs hurt?" he asked.
"Pretty bad. They must have been badly bruised."
"Or cracked. I could hear the kick over the phone as I was driving."
"That must have been scary to hear and not be able to do anything about it."
"It was. It sounded like you put up a pretty good fight."
"I am actually proud of myself. A month ago I would have frozen in fear, not knowing what to do. Sure, I got cut but it could have been so much worse. I think Lundel intended for it to be so much worse. He is unhinged."
We made it to the Triage area. Lorna Cruikshank looked after me. I had not seen Lorna since we were in high school together but I had heard about her three kids often from my mother and grandmother. She looked at the cuts. "You will definitely need to see the doctor and I suspect she will order x-rays. You are lucky. We are slow right now and it should not take long for the doctor to see you. She sent me back to the green area where I was assigned a cubicle. I carefully laid down on the stretcher.
"So tell me about the rest of your day", said Ranger.
"Lula and I picked up a skip this morning. He was the dog poop mailer. As we were leaving his house, the man with the dog left a huge deposit on the skip's lawn. I filmed the whole thing on my phone. When I dropped Wu off at the station, I took the video in at the same time. The man will now be arrested for public mischief and breaking a town by-law. Wu just wants the harassment to stop. I don't blame him. It was a rather large dog and you know what they say. The larger the dog, the larger the poops. I had just picked up Lula and, after she got some doughnuts, we were going after Renee. How was your morning?"
"Uneventful up until you called", Ranger replied.
"I am thinking uneventful is good?"
"Uneventful is very good."
Dr. Jettson walked into the cubicle. "You again? Did you miss us?" She looked at Ranger and smiled, then turned back to me, all business again. "How are you feeling from the GHB?"
"Totally recovered from that", I said. "But now I have another problem. The guy who drugged me caught up to me again today and cut my arm, my neck, and hurt my ribs. So here I am, back again."
"Let's take off your top and see what we have." She helped me take off my hoody and t-shirt. She had me lie back down on the stretcher and felt all around the ribs area. "I want to have that x-rayed. I suspect you have one or more cracked ribs, but I want to see the x-rays before I say for sure. I will suture this cut first, and will clean the cut on your neck. I'll be back in a minute with the suture kit and the antiseptic." She left the cubicle for a few minutes.
"She's into you", I whispered to Ranger.
He shrugged his shoulders. "There is only one woman I am interested in and it isn't the doctor."
Something to think about.
The doctor was in the middle of suturing the cut when Morelli badged his way in. Immediately my body tensed, ready for battle. "Have you finished doing all the cop stuff?" I asked.
"For now. What were you thinking, not looking where you were going? What were you thinking looking down at your phone, not being aware of your surroundings? You know better than that, especially when there is someone out there who may want you dead. You have to be more careful, Cupcake. You cannot take risks like that."
"I was in front of the Tasty Pastry. The only dangerous thing in the Tasty Pastry I ever encountered before was you." And it was true. I had worked my way through high school at the Tasty Pastry, and gave my virginity to Morelli behind the pastry counter one night when I was sixteen. "Besides, as Lula said, that was probably the only time I have been to the Tasty Pastry when there hasn't been a cop there."
"I like the cannoli there", interjected Dr. Jettson.
"I know. Isn't their cannoli the best?" I said with a smile.
"Fuck the cannoli. You have to be more careful, Cupcake. Next time he might get lucky."
"Won't you at least give me credit for my awesome self-defense moves?"
"I would be more amazed if you hadn't ended up cut and bleeding, if I hadn't had to run up and see blood pouring down you neck. From where I am standing, your self-defense skills weren't really impressive."
I looked at him for a few moments. "Lula is right. You are a cranky-pants."
"Maybe I am. But I am a cranky-pants with a reason. You have to look at it from my side. You would be a cranky-pants, too, if you just lived through what I lived through this morning. I am sorry. I am trying to be understanding. I am trying not to yell. But it is so hard when I was so scared. You tie me up in knots and turn me inside out until I barely know if I am coming or going. I love you."
"Thank you for trying not to yell. You are partially succeeding", I said with a conciliatory smile.
Dr. Jettson finished putting in her sutures. "All done", she said. "I will now send you down to x-ray for your ribs. I will see you back here in a few minutes. Take a wheelchair", she cautioned as I attempted to hop off the stretcher. Ranger went out into the hall to find a wheelchair.
"What is it with you and Ranger?"
"He is my protector. He always has been."
"I want to be your protector."
"You don't have the right attitude for it, Joe. You worry too much and you get too upset when things go wrong."
"And Mr. Cool in the Face of Danger doesn't."
"No, he doesn't."
"Then he is a better man than me."
"No, you are a good man. You just may not be the best man for me. You are fun and I love you, but you are a round peg and I am a square hole. You fit in my hole, no sexual innuendos intended, but you aren't a perfect fit. I cannot live with you trying to control my life. You yelling at me when I shot Pete Brodie a few weeks ago, even you yelling at me today, shows me we are not a match. Both times I needed support from you, and both times you got angry at me instead. We have tried and tried, but you want me to become a round hole and I cannot do it. I am what I am and at this point I am not willing to change. I'm sorry."
"Is Ranger a square peg?"
"I don't know. We haven't tried."
"That's it for now. You have said too many things in the past which are hurtful and I cannot forget them the way I would need to if we were to get back together. We have had some pretty brutal arguments in the past but the one after I shot Brodie was the worst."
"I'm hurting. I wish I had not said anything."
"I'm hurting, too."
"Is there any hope for us?"
"Not right now. I cannot talk about the future. I am still taking one day at a time."
"Call me if you need anything, or if you want to give me a chance to try to become a square peg."
"I'll keep that in mind." Joe left, brushing past Ranger as he arrived with the wheelchair.
Ranger walked in. "Everything okay in here? Morelli looked awfully upset."
"Just peachy", I sighed. Ranger wheeled me down to x-ray. Following x-rays I returned to the cubicle to find out that I did have a hairline fracture on one of my ribs. "Just great. This day started so promisingly", I said, disgusted.
"I have to call it in to Morelli", said Ranger.
"Okay. Can you talk to him?"
"Yes. Do you want to talk about it?" he asked.
"Nope. Not at all." He wheeled me out to the doors and, putting his hand on the small of my back, escorted me the rest of the way to the car.
"I am sending Hal to pick up your car. Do you have a body receipt for him to take in?"
"Yes, I do. I keep hoping the bonds office will join the twenty-first century and implement direct deposit. It makes so much more sense than using cheques."
"We will hand off your body receipt when we get to Rangeman. Then you may want to take one of the pain pills the doctor gave you and have a nap. I have to say, I know you didn't want to go to the laser tag facility, but this is a sneaky way of getting out of it." He smiled.
"Smart ass", I muttered.
Getting to the office, I went to the break room to grab a crab salad sandwich, a yogurt parfait, and a small salad with low fat ranch dressing. I sighed. I wanted the full fat thousand island one, but it was nowhere to be found. I poured myself coffee and grabbed an orange juice. Sitting down carefully, I tried not to jostle my ribs. Hal came into the break room to grab some lunch.
"Hey, Steph, I heard you had some excitement this morning."
"You could phrase it like that. You know the truth, don't you?" I said, lowering my voice.
"I didn't want to get creamed in laser tag today. Ranger said this was a good enough excuse to get out of it." I smiled at Hal's look of surprise. He had thought he would get some real dirt. "Gotcha", I said with a laugh.
Hal started laughing. "Yes, you did. Do you really not want to play laser tag, though? It is a lot of fun. It is only Rangeman staff there, so you don't have to worry about anyone breaking the rules. Ranger sets it up like a real firefight but keeping it honourable. No shooting in the face or your bits. Only in the torso. Kill shots are preferred. If you want to work in teams, that is acceptable. So is working solo. Ranger suggests we work both solo as well as in partners at some point in the game."
"I am having a hard time overcoming my upset in shooting someone, even if it is with a laser in a game. I can shoot somewhat decently in the range when we are using the circle targets. But when the targets are the body targets, I lose it and am having problems getting past the fact that the targets are representing a person. Brodie is too fresh in my mind. Ranger had thought laser tag would help me past some of that. To tell you the truth, I am nervous about it. I am unhappy I fractured my rib and cut my arm, but I am not unhappy to be missing laser tag."
"You would probably be paired with Ranger anyway. We would not stand a chance beating you. Ranger is the best at the game. Tank is second best."
I handed my body receipt to Hal and thanked him for detailing my car the other day, and picking it up today. As Hal left the room to join Eduardo for a ride to the bonds office, I headed up to the apartment. I went to the kitchen and took a pain pill then went to flop on the couch, or as much as my injuries would let me flop. I took out my phone and sent a text to Lula telling her that Hal was coming in with my body receipt and would be picking up my car. I told her about my injuries and said that I would catch up with her in a couple of days. By the time I finished writing the text the pain pills were hitting me. I closed my eyes and fell asleep.