I carried a Clucky Burger combo with a diet coke into the office for me, a clucky strips and fries combo with an iced tea for Connie, and a bucket of extra crispy, large fries, tub of coleslaw, a tub of macaroni salad, and a diet coke for Lula.
"Thanks", said Connie. "I was starving and I could not get away from the phones. Vinnie advertised again. This campaign has been as successful as his 'hot girls will come and get you' campaign. The phone has been ringing off the hook. At least this time the callers don't have the impression you are prostitutes providing home service." Connie is the office manager for the bail bonds office. She is very Italian in every way, from her connections to the mob to her buxom hourglass figure. She is a good person to have on your side, and I am happy to say that she is a good friend of mine.
"Shee-it girl, you look terrible. Your bags are getting darker every day. Are you still not sleeping?" asked Lula around a mouthful of coleslaw. Lula is my other friend at the bail bonds office, and even though she is technically the file clerk, she is my usual partner when I am skip chasing. She is a former ho' with chocolate brown skin and triple the assets I have in the bust region, and double everywhere else. I would not exactly call her fat, but rather she has an overabundance of Lula in both body and spirit. She is as kind-hearted and loyal as she is addicted to wearing size two clothing on a size twenty-two body.
"No. I'm still having nightmares."
"You've got to let it go, girl. It never bothers me when I shoot my gun."
"Yeah, but you haven't killed anyone. I have killed three people."
"True, but I have shot people. I've even shot you." And it was true. A few months ago, Lula shot at a fleeing skip and hit Ranger's car with one shot and grazed my arm with the second. Even though Lula is reliant upon her gun and pulls it out with little provocation, she is a terrible shot. Much worse than me and that is saying something.
"I've shot and killed more people than Morelli, and he is a cop."
"Speaking about Morelli, have you heard from Officer Hottie recently?"
"I hear from him all the time. I let his messages go to voice mail."
"Are you going forgive him?"
"I have already forgiven him for his comments. He was scared and angry, and it all boiled up and came out. I get that. But I can't forget what he said. It was similar to every other argument we've had in the past. Our job choices will always be a stumbling block. And neither of us are willing to change."
"Girl, you've got a problem."
"Tell me about it. But I can't do anything about it today. Today I have two files I want to clean up. Do you want to ride shotgun?"
"Hell, yeah. There is nothing in this office to do other than filing. I have already read my horoscope in all the magazines."
"Two new files have come in as well", said Connie. "Both medium level bonds."
I thanked her, took the files from Connie's hand and walked to the door with Lula. "I have to be at Rangeman by three forty-five for a shooting lesson this afternoon, so this will be a short skip chasing day."
"Ranger is providing shooting lessons again? I could use some lessons, if you know what I mean. He is the hottest looking man I ever did see, and I saw all kinds when I was a ho'. I wonder what his twig looks like. Don't tell me. It would be real disappointin' to find out if it was a small twig. Or that there was a bend in the branch. I would never be able to look at him again."
I had slept with Ranger a handful of times, most recently three weeks ago. I didn't want to say it, but Ranger's twig more resembled a full-sized tree, and there were no knots or crooks in the trunk at all.
We got in the car. "I thought we could go after Virginia Myaneski this afternoon. She is fifteen, and she stole a car to drive to the mall. She had the bad luck of not only getting caught, but she did not realize the vehicle she stole was an undercover police car. She lives in the Burg. It is a professional development day at school today, so she has the day off." The Burg is the part of Trenton in which I grew up. Traditionally a close-knit Italian community with some Eastern Slavic pedigrees thrown in, it has more recently become a huge melting pot of a variety of first generation nationalities. It is a neighbourhood primarily filled with duplexes. Residents are working class and family oriented, and are highly protective of one another.
"She stole a police car? If she was going to steal a car, you would think she could pick a better car than a POS like a police car. Those cars are old. Dented and rusted. If I were her I would have stolen a car more like my Firebird."
Lula had a nice, new, red Firebird. It always astounds me she can afford such an expensive car on the peanuts she earns as a file clerk. She has tried to explain to me that she is leasing and leasing costs less money per month than buying a car. I am not eligible for leasing. I have blown up, crushed and otherwise significantly impaired too many of my cars to qualify for the type of insurance I would need to be able to lease.
We parked two houses down the street from the Myaneski house, the right side of a beige brick duplex located next to the local high school. The garden was crammed with quotation plaques and figurines, so much so it looked like garden paraphernalia was growing there instead of flowers. The house itself was quiet. Lula got out her gun.
"No! No guns!" I said.
"Why not? Someone has to teach that little girl a lesson and what better way to teach that lesson than looking down the barrel of a gun?"
"It isn't our job to teach her a lesson. It is our job to bring her in."
"Hunh. You have all the rules. You need to get past this no-gun thing. You need to get back in the saddle."
"I'm hearing that a lot lately. But I have always said 'no guns'. You just don't always listen to me."
"Hunh." She put her gun back in her purse. "But I'm taking it in my purse, just in case. You don't have your gun with you, do you?"
"Yes, I do. I have my Rangeman gun and it will also stay in my purse." I didn't tell her I had taken out the bullets when I left the Rangeman office. She seemed to find comfort in knowing I had a gun with me.
We walked up to the front door and listened for a few seconds. There was no sound of human life. I rang the doorbell. A dog started barking furiously, but there were no other sounds.
"I bet she is at the mall", said Lula.
"I bet she is, too."
"I think we should go to the mall to look for her."
I privately thought it would be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, but I agreed to go with Lula. A trip to the mall would be good for me personally. I had run out of happy in the last three weeks, and a bout of retail therapy sounded good. We got back in the car and I drove to Quaker Mall. Entering through Macy's, I tried on four pairs of heels, all of which Lula said I should get but none of which I could decide on, four perfume samples, and had a makeover at the beauty counter. We then headed into the mall. I bought two more pairs of yoga pants from Lululemon, and since it was buy one, get the second at half price at Victoria's Secrets, I bought two new matching bra and underwear sets. You can't pass up a deal like that. We did not see Virginia Myaneski while we were there, but in truth I was not looking very hard. And, I did feel marginally better by the time we left.
Lula had more bags leaving the mall then I did. She bought two stretchy tops that looked perfectly respectable on the hanger but when she put them they barely covered her voluptuousness and revealed her midriff. She thought they were perfect. She also bought three new body butters, a new lipstick each to match her new shirts, a pair of stiletto heels, a slinky nightgown for when her honeys come over, and a new magazine for the office. "I haven't read the horoscope in this one yet", she explained. "And I don't want to be stuck doin' no filing when I get back."
I dropped her off at the bonds office and returned to Rangeman. I keyed myself into the underground parking and parked my car in one of Ranger's four personal spots. He has three cars to choose from – a Porsche Turbo 911, a Porsche Cayenne, and a Toyota Tacoma truck. Like Ranger's fleet cars, his personal cars are all new, black, clean, and in pristine condition. I had one car, an old Honda Accord, which I parked in his remaining fourth spot. Parking in his garage always makes me want to sing "which one of these doesn't belong with the others?" My car is old, dirty, and with the odd rust spot it is not in pristine condition. Even though it is also black, it definitely does not belong. But Ranger does not seem to mind when I park in one of his personal spots. I am glad. It is close to the elevators.
I got to my desk in just enough time to put bullets back in the gun and put on the holster.
"Ready?" asked Ranger.
"Ready as I will ever be."
"Is your gun loaded?"
"Of course. Do you think I would leave my gun unloaded?" I asked huffily.
"Nice try. I saw you loading it on the feed." Damn. The entire building, inside and out, is monitored. A Rangeman staff member watches the feed at all times in the control room, but I forgot that Ranger periodically checks the feed himself as well. Next time I will load my gun before I get to the Rangeman facility.
"I brought some bullets from the storeroom anyway for when you run out."
We took the elevator down to the basement and walked down the hall to the gun range. It was quiet. There was no one practicing on the range and there were no people in the holding cells going ape-shit. I had hoped to find a deranged escapee before I got to the range, a major problem that would require Ranger's attention and would get me out of practicing, but had no such luck. The closer I got to the range, the more I was dragging my feet.
"I am terrible at shooting. It is dangerous to give me a gun", I started to argue.
"That is why you are practicing, Babe. You need to be comfortable with and proficient at shooting it."
"I don't want to do this."
"I gathered that." Ranger cued up a target and sent it back to the rear wall. "Now draw your weapon and aim for the centre of the target." I unholstered my gun and fired the full clip into the target. I got several bulls-eyes, but my hands were shaking and I was crying by the end of the round. "That is good. You have improved a lot since you started shooting lessons a month ago." Ranger took the gun away from me and refilled the clip. I swiped angrily at the falling tears and did some deep breathing to try to get myself under control. Ranger ignored the tears. "Now, again", Ranger said as he handed my gun back to me. "Think about how angry you are this time. Not about how scared you are, or how guilty you feel." I shot the gun again, getting more bulls-eyes.
"Good. Now this time focus on your anger and pretend the target is somebody. It could be Brodie, could be Morelli, could be me. Could be one of your current skips. Just remember to harness your anger." He cued up a body target. "Aim for the chest." My hand started to shake at the outline of a person on the target and I got very few bulls-eyes. "Again", he said as he cued up another target and I refilled my clip. I was shaking so hard I kept dropping bullets on the ground. Ranger took the clip back and finished filling the clip for me.
I'm not sure exactly who I was aiming for. It don't think it was Morelli. I felt like I had forgiven him. And I don't think it was Ranger. He had done nothing wrong. I don't even think it was Brodie, although perhaps it should have been. I was angry at myself. I was angry I was not bouncing back with my usual resiliency. I was angry I cared about killing someone who was about to kill me. And I was angry I had lost my confidence and my happiness. The tears continued to stream down my face as I shot another clip into the target, eventually stopping not because I ran out of bullets but because I was crying too hard to see the target. I put my gun down and, sniffling, reached in my pocket for a tissue. Ranger gathered me up into a tight hug and, not saying anything, rubbed my back in comforting circles.
I eventually got control of myself and, embarrassed, pulled away from Ranger. "I'm sorry. I have mascara running down my face, don't I?"
"It's okay. You don't have to say it. I look like a wreck."
"No, you look beautiful." I made a face as he picked up my gun and filled the clip. He put it in my holster and draped his arm around my shoulders to lead me out of the range. "Is that the first time you have cried since the first few days?"
"Not including in my sleep, yes."
"Then it sounds like you were due."
"I don't like crying. It makes your eyes hurt and go all red."
"Yeah, but you have to let your emotions out somehow, Babe. It's not good to keep them bottled up inside you. They will just fester and eat you up." He angled me onto the elevator and pressed seven. I followed him into his apartment, leaving him to go to the bathroom to wash my face. I looked in the mirror. Eeek! More than just my mascara ran. So did the foundation, eye shadow and concealer that the beauty counter had applied during my makeover. I took out some face wash from my drawer and removed the makeup. Scrubbed clean and feeling a bit better, I joined Ranger in his office. "I have some work to do. It is an hour until dinner. Did you want to have a nap and then stay for supper?" It sounded good. I was unsettled and didn't really want to be alone.
I lay down on the bed and immediately conked out. Ranger kissed me awake an hour later. "Ella has brought dinner and it looks really good. Do you want to get up or do you want to sleep?"
"I'll get up, thanks."
"Are you feeling better?"
"Yes, I am." And that is the thing about me. A good cry and an hour's sleep will do wonders for my outlook. I was pleased. My resiliency was coming back.
"Whose head were you envisioning on your target this afternoon?" he asked as he took a Mexican lasagna out of the oven and poured glasses of red wine while I ran glasses of water from the fridge dispenser and pulled the salad and dressing out.
I shifted a bit uncomfortably as I said "mine." He looked at me with eyebrows raised and waited for me to say more. We sat down and started our meals while I got my thoughts together. "I am angry at myself for letting this get to me. I am angry at myself for putting myself in the situation I was in. And most of all I am angry at myself because, if I had to do it over again, I would do it exactly the same way.
"But I am angry at the world as well. I am angry at my mother, because she is heavily pressuring me to quit my job and is upset Joe and I split. It's the no grandkids thing. Just because she was happy as a stay-at-home mom means she thinks I will be happy with the same thing. I don't think I will, though. I am angry at my grandmother for exaggerating the story about me killing Brodie in the neighbourhood. I know she doesn't mean to sensationalize it, but the end result is people are treating me as a murderer and hiding their children behind them as I walk by. It feels like my whole life changed with that one bullet and, in many ways, it did."
"There are more effective ways to deal with your anger rather than on shooting a target version of yourself and holding it all in until you get nightmares. Tomorrow we are going into the gym to work on the mats."
"Do I have to? I hate working out", I pouted.
"You will like it tomorrow. You will be able to practice self-defense and take all that aggression out on me. It's a much healthier way of dealing with anger." Ranger finished his last mouthful of wine and pushed aside his empty plate. I dished up seconds onto my own.
Food is my Valium. My family uses food to tranquilize all of life's problems away. Lasagnas, stuffed peppers, roast pork, turkey tetrazzini, chicken divan, rice pudding, chocolate brownies, oatmeal raisin cookies, ice cream, apple pie, Vienna cookies, chocolate pudding, we eat it all. I finished my second helping and eyed the casserole dish for a third. Remembering that my jeans no longer button at the waist any more – I have been using food as my Valium extensively over the last three weeks – with a sigh I turned away from the dish.
Ranger's lips twitched as he watched me fight with myself over having a third helping. "Cheer up, Babe. Things will only get better."
We put away the leftover casserole and salad, and put our dishes in the dishwasher. Then I took my wine into the office and we sat on the couch to watch some TV. I cuddled into Ranger's side and his arm came down around me, making me feel nice and secure. I stayed there, feeling safe for the first time in a long time, until it was time for me to go home.