That night, after sitting on the couch watching television for a while, Ranger massaging my feet again, I went to bed. I was feeling pretty sore, but I was coping with the pain. Ranger insisted that I take another pain pill, and he cuddled me until I fell asleep. A while later, I am not sure how long, I woke up to Ranger pacing the office with his phone in his hand. He had his earphones in and I could barely hear Ranger's end to the conversation. Once again I heard him say "Stephanie Plum". This time he seemed happy with what they had to say on the other end of the line. He said "yes, sir, I will talk to her after I come back." Then he was silent again as I fell back to sleep.
The next morning I was silent about what I had heard. I could not figure out what was going on, but I knew Ranger would just say it was the pain pills giving me dreams again. I'm not sure if it was, however. The dream seemed pretty real to me. Of course, the shooting-Brodie dream seemed real to me as well, as if I was there experiencing it again, so what do I know? Maybe Ranger's pacing was all a dream, and I thought I heard something I didn't.
"What does your day look like?" asked Ranger, breaking into my thoughts.
"I am feeling a bit better, so I was thinking I would pick up Lula and go capture that dog dragger. Connie also texted me yesterday and said I have another four files to pick up. I would like to do the background work on those as well."
"I was wondering whether you would like to go out for dinner. We have gone out on dates before, but they have always been working dates. The closest we got to a real date was when I took you to my friend's wedding, and you were poisoned. Would you be interested in going out for dinner?"
"That sounds great! What sort of clothing will I need?" I asked.
"I thought I would wear a suit."
"You look awesome in a suit." And he did. He wears a black suit with a black dress shirt and a matching black tie, and he looks like he stepped off the cover of a GQ magazine. In my head, I added 'buy new dress' to my mental list of things to do today.
When Ranger left the apartment to go downstairs, I readied myself for the day and headed down to my car. I took the stairs. I needed to lose weight fast. I knew I could not lose all the weight I needed to lose in one morning, but hey! Every bit helps.
On the way down the stairs I got a text from Dillon. "Your apartment smells good again. Had to get a professional company in to do the cleaning. The building insurance does not cover it. You will have to charge it to your property insurance. You are ready to move back in any time.
I texted him back, "thanks again for looking after that. It smelled pretty bad. How upset are my neighbours?"
"They more think of you as their personal soap opera. The smell was a hanger rather than a spreader. Your neighbours weren't affected in their own apartments and you could only smell it in the hall. Only Mr. Short was affected terribly. He can't move fast enough on his walker to power through the smell. He got his groceries delivered to his door."
I wasn't sure if I liked being thought of as entertainment and I tried to decide if I should be thankful or embarrassed. I made a mental note to stop by Mr. Short's apartment and pay him back for the delivery fee for his groceries.
I drove to the office, coming in through the back door. Connie was at the precinct bonding someone out, Vinnie was out having a nooner with a dog, and Lula was in the office alone. "I am on a mission today. I getting the dog dragger, pick up my cheque, then go to the mall and buy a dress. I have phoned Reese Kraust's employer, and she is scheduled to work at ten o'clock today. Are you interested in coming?"
"WHAM! I can get that dog dragger any day. Why do you need a dress?"
"Ranger is taking me out for dinner and he said he will be wearing a suit."
"Is that a suit for formal, black tie wear, or is that a court suit, or is that an exceedingly fancy suit for dinner wear? 'Cause it makes a difference as to what kind of dress you should buy."
"I don't know. I think Ranger only has one type of suit. He didn't say he was wearing his tuxedo. All the rest of his suits are black and he wears them with black shirts and ties."
Lula started fanning herself. "He has his own tuxedo? That man is like a caramel version of James Bond. The Sean Connery one. He was the best. Does he drink martinis, shaken but not stirred?"
"I don't think he drinks martinis. He's more of a wine kind of guy."
Lula stopped fanning herself. "Wine? I never could understand the appeal of that drink. Who wants to drink grape juice? I am more of a marguerita kind of girl. Now that's a drink."
I am more of an anything girl. I like it all, wine, margueritas, beer, you name it. I just don't like too much of it.
Connie came into the office just as I was finishing a cup of coffee. "Steph has a date with Ranger tonight. We are going dress shopping after we pick up Kraust. Wham! Let's get this done."
"Really? You have a date with Ranger?" Connie started fanning herself. "You will have to come in tomorrow to tell us how it went. Where is he taking you?"
"I don't know. I don't know if he knows yet. He just said to dress up, and I have to buy a new black dress. My existing cocktail dress does not fit anymore."
"You will have to do something about that, otherwise none of your clothes will fit. Even your Lululemon pants won't fit and that will be a shame since you just bought them." I agreed. That would be a shame.
"I was doing something about it until my rib was cracked. Ranger had me in self-defense training every day. I was actually getting so I liked it. Well, maybe not so that I liked it, but at least as though I was not dreading it as much."
"If you hang around Ranger much longer, you are going to become Mrs. Ranger", said Lula. "What happened with Officer Hottie?"
"We have officially broken it off. He was comfortable, but I wasn't getting the support I needed from him when I needed it. It doesn't mean that I will always be broken up with him. It just means that, right now, we can't be together. I want to stay friends with him, though, and keep an open channel with him. I like him too much as a person to not want to stay friends with him. We have agreed to see other people."
"How upset was he?"
"Very. I didn't like hurting his feelings. But now it is done."
"So Ranger asked you out."
"Damn, you are lucky. Two hot guys after you."
"I am lucky, not because they are hot but because they are both good people." Lula and Connnie recommenced fanning themselves. "Are you ready to go get Kraust?" I asked.
"Absolutely. Wham! I am ready."
We got in the car and drove to Reese's work, a clothing store that caters to overweight women. "This is good," said Lula, "they usually only hire overweight people to work at that type of clothing store. And overweight people don't run too fast. Not that I would know. I'm not overweight. I am a big, beautiful woman. I just have big bones." I looked at her, eyeing the size of her bones. Nope, not big bones.
We waited until the store opened at ten o'clock. When we saw a woman unlock the doors, we got out of the car and walked in. A matronly salesclerk came up to us. "I'm sorry," she said to me, "but we don't sell maternity wear here. There is a maternity wear store up the street at the next strip plaza." She turned to Lula. "We definitely have your size here, however. What sort of style of clothing are you looking for?"
"Hunh. You don't sell my size here. I am a size two. And you don't sell no spandex." Two other customers came into the store and drifted close to Lula to be able to overhear her conversation.
"A size twenty-two, maybe, or a 2X, but definitely not a size two", said the lady. I heard a snort come from one of the other customers.
"You don't know what you are talking about. Size 2X, my ass. I bet you don't get no customers in this store. I bet you are about to go out of business. You can't size people very well at all."
Breaking into what appeared to be a brewing argument, I asked whether Reese Kraust was in the store.
"Yes", replied the salesclerk. "She is unpacking boxes and doing inventory in the back. Can I help you with something?"
"Yes, we are here on behalf of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds, the bonding company she used when she was arrested. She missed her court date and needs to come with us to reschedule."
"Oh, my. Can you wait until her inventory is done before you take her off to jail?"
"No, I'm sorry but we can't. We can take her in, however, and get her bonded out right away. She could be back this afternoon to finish off her shift." I'm not sure if that is exactly accurate. It would depend upon whether she could come up with the collateral and the fifteen percent to make the bond.
We walked to the rear of the store, Lula continually muttering under her breath, insisting she was a size two, the salesclerk muttering under her breath about delusional customers.
We entered the back of the store. Kraust was opening boxes and counting items. I called her name. She held up her index finger, telling us to wait while she finished counting. We waited until her lips stopped moving and she had written down a number on a sheet. "May I help you?" she asked.
"I am Stephanie Plum. I represent Vincent Plum Bail Bonds and you missed your court date. I am here to escort you to court to reschedule. You can get bonded out again immediately and I am sure that you will be back in time to finish your shift."
"I guess I can do that", she said. "I don't like doing inventory anyway." She put down her clipboard and walked towards us calmly. I took out my cuffs. Seeing the cuffs, she started to run. Surprising Lula and I, she brushed past us, hitting my sore rib on the way. I made an involuntary cry of pain and Lula took after Kraust. Kraust had a slight head start, pulling clothing racks and displays into the aisle behind her as she went. Lula persevered. Kraust ran out of the store, followed closely by Lula, followed by me, followed by the salesclerk, followed by the other two customers in the store. I got to the automatic doors just in time to see Lula jump from the top of the wheelchair ramp onto Kraust, collapsing her onto the concrete stairs. I walked up and cuffed Kraust. "That's what I mean. Wham! That's your signature move. You squish them like a pancake."
"Wham!" Lula groaned.
I helped Kraust to her feet, thanked the salesclerk for her help, and walked Kraust to my car. Lula walked behind me. I sat Kraust in the car and got out my first aid box. I cleaned up her skinned knees and hands, then buckled her into the backseat. I shut the door then turned to Lula. I cleaned the dirt out of her skinned elbows and hands. "How are you doing?" I asked.
"Okay. I cocobonked my head pretty hard on hers, so I think I am going to have a bruise."
"Does your head hurt? Is your vision all right?"
"No, it just feels like I banged it. I don't think it's concussed or nothin'."
"Good, because I still want you to go shopping with me this afternoon."
"You are going shopping?" asked Kraust. "I love shopping. There is a new maternity wear store just up at the next plaza you should totally check out. I went there with my sister when she was pregnant, and they have lots of great clothes for reasonable prices."
"What is this with me looking like I am pregnant? I have just gained a little weight, that is all. I'm not that heavy, am I?" I asked Lula.
"No, you are just turning into a big, beautiful woman like me. There is nothing wrong with that. I get lots of honeys. 'Course, you don't have any problems getting honeys of your own. You have too many honeys."
"Not any more, I don't."
"Do you think Officer Hottie would be interested in me, now that you aren't going out with him?"
"I thought you were allergic to police?"
"For him, I would take an antihistamine. That man is hot."
"I like hot men", came Kraust's voice from the backseat. "If he is available, do you think he would be interested in me?"
"Probably not", I replied. "For one thing, he is a cop and cops aren't usually interested in dating felons. For another thing, he is a dog owner and would have little patience for someone who dragged their dog down the street. I understand why you felt too lazy to walk your dog, but you don't have the option to wimp out on the care if you own one. They are like kids. A huge responsibility that, once you take that responsibility on, you are stuck with it for the rest of your life."
"Are we still talking about dogs?" asked Lula.
"I don't know what I am talking about", I answered. "I think I am talking about kids." We drove on in silence for a few minutes, then I said to Lula "I will drop you off at the office and will pick you up when I bring in the body receipt."
I picked up my cheque from Connie and headed to the mall with Lula. We hit the bank first, putting in the money that would pay for the dress. Then we worked our way down the mall, starting at Macy's.
Lula and I shop differently. Lula shops for the tightest, skimpiest, shiniest outfit she can find. Her out-there purchases suit her personality. I, on the other hand, search for more traditional wear. Maybe it's the Hungarian in me, but I like to be practical.
In Macy's I found a slinky black dress that fit well. I felt it emphasized my tummy though. Lula found a short, shiny silver sequined number. She handed it over the door. "I can't wear that!" I said.
"Why not? It looks good on. I have one exactly like it, but in gold." I didn't think it looked good. I thought it looked like a fishing lure.
I found another dress, a deep purple decorated with a black lace overlay on the bodice and a black skirt. I wore it out of the change room and modelled it. "Nice", said Lula. "Sexy in an understated sort of way. I am all about the traditional. That looks good on you." She pulled out a royal blue spandex tank top dress. "Try this on", she said. I grimaced internally, but tried it on. "Oh, yeah, girlfriend. That dress will have him begging."
I looked in the mirror and grimaced. "I don't think this is exactly my style. It doesn't seem to cover all of me." I looked down and tried to pull the dress down over the curve of my butt cheeks. "You can tell the colour of my underwear while I am standing up."
"I see what you are saying. That is why you have to buy underwear that is the same colour as the dress. Are you sure you don't like it?"
"No, I don't feel comfortable in it."
"I think I will try it on then. It may be a bit big on me, but I would like to try it. Royal blue is a good colour for me, especially when I put blue or pink streaks in my hair." Lula tried on the dress. I imagined the dress crying out in protestation as Lula pulled it over her head. A lot of grunting came from behind Lula's change room door, and she came out looking triumphant. "What do you think?" she asked.
"Can you breathe?" I asked.
"Yes, of course I can."
"I think it makes a nice top but men will think you are still in business if you wear that dress walking down the street."
"Hunh. What do you know? I'm taking it." She walked back in the room and her struggle to get out of the dress again was heard by both the sales people in the change room area. Suddenly I heard the sound of ripping fabric. Lula quickly walked out shortly afterwards. "I don't think I will take it after all." I ran after her as she powerwalked towards the exit into the mall. "Fool sizing. It is so inconsistent. They must have marked the dress the wrong size. That was supposed to be a size six. There is no way a size six is too small for me", she said in disgust as we walked down the mall.
We walked into another store, a hole-in-the-wall store that was advertising a store-closing sale. Lula started pulling dress after dress off the racks for me. I was not nearly as successful. I found four dresses that I liked, a dark red one, another purple one, a dark sapphire blue one, and a black one. I tried on the red one first. It had long netted sleeves and a deep scoop neck. It looked better than the purple and black lace one I had just tried on. I tried on the purple one, but did not like it at all. I tried on the black tuxedo dress. Nice, but not the sexy feel that I was going for. Finally, I tried on the dark sapphire stretch velvet dress. It had off-the-shoulder short sleeves and a deep, wide v-neckline, and came with a matching wrap. The sleeves just covered my cut. It was tight down my body, ending just above my knee. I knew it was the dress as soon as I put it on. I could pair it with my strappy black high heels, and my fake diamond necklace and drop earrings. I came out of the change room to show Lula.
"That's the one. If he sees you in that before you leave for dinner, he may change his mind about taking you out." I agreed with Lula. Of course, I have seen him in a suit before and, I know from experience, once I see him again in a suit I would be quite happy to stay at home.
She looked down at all the clothes heaped in her arms. "I have already pulled these. There is no point letting them go to waste", and she went into the change room. I closed the door on my change room and took off the dress. I looked at the price and noticed the 50% off sticker covering the price. I peeled off the sticker slightly so that I could see the original price and smiled. The sale price was so good I would be able to buy a new strapless bra, underwear and pantyhose. Life was good.
I finished getting dressed in my own clothes and stepped outside, taking my rejects and putting them on the rack. I sat down on the bench and waited for Lula, my dress clutched in my hands. I again heard a lot of grunting, and Lula came out wearing a lime-green stretch dress that was gathered down one side. I thought it looked hideous, but I told her it looked nice anyway. "I like it", she said. She went back into the change room and with only minimal swearing changed back out of the dress. A few minutes later she came out in a fire engine red deep v-neck dress that showed off her considerable assets. "I like this one too." She returned to the change room and came out in a yellow and black striped top and a black miniskirt.
"Nope. You look like a bumblebee in that one", I said before Lula could say that she liked it. She looked at it, considering, turning her head this way and that as she looked in the mirror, then decided she agreed with me.
"This is the last one", she said as she came out in a white halter-style Marilyn Monroe dress.
"Classic. It looks good on you", I said. She decided to get that dress as well.
"I can afford all this because it is half price. I would not be able to afford even one of them if they weren't half price. Now I can afford all three."
"But three half price ones add up to one and a half full price ones. How can you afford all that?"
"I just got a raise."
"You got a promotion?" I asked. I didn't remember hearing anything about Lula getting a promotion and, in all honesty, I thought she would have to do her job as a file clerk before she would ever get a promotion.
"No. My credit rating has been raised on my Amex card. I can now spend much more than I could previously."
Oh, that kind of raise.
I went to the cash and paid for my one dress. Lula paid for her three on her Amex card.
I then told Lula I needed to go to Victoria's Secret to get new underwear. Lula's eyes sparkled. She loved shopping for sexy underwear.
We walked down the mall to Victoria's Secret. I immediately walked back towards the strapless bras in my 36C size. I picked a black lacy one with a deep V in the front and tried it on. Lula handed a "pump up the volume" bra in a 34D size over the door of the change room. I liked the 34D size better, partly because it meant I was wearing a D cup. How cool is that? I tried on the dress overtop and walked out of the change room. I had cleavage I didn't even know I had. "Va-va-vroom", said Lula. "That's what I'm talking about. Let the professional pick your panties. You are going for the classic look. Thong? Bikini? What do you want?"
"Black to match my bra, preferably bikini although cheeky or cheekinis would be a nice change." I admired myself in the mirror a little longer, then reluctantly changed out of my dress. Lula was back shortly afterwards, passing over a pair of cheeky black lace panties with a strappy cutout on the back.
"I have other options for you, but that is the best pair as long as it fits."
I tried them on over my existing underwear and looked in the mirror. Definitely sexy. I took off the underwear and bra and put on my old clothes. Leaving the change room, I picked up a package of sheer thigh-highs. I was set for the night.