I grabbed a ham and swiss on a Kaiser, a container of fruit salad and a to-go cup of coffee out of the break room on my way to the bonds office. In the elevator I ran into Ranger. "You were on the floor early again. Still having problems sleeping?"
"Do you need to be at Vinnie's soon or do you have time to eat your lunch with me before you go?"
"I have time first. I left it open-ended as to when I meet with Lula to chase skips." I followed him into his office.
"I have some time to work in the gym with you at five this afternoon. Do you want to stay for dinner afterwards?" I thanked him for the offer and agreed to stay. It was family dinner night at my parents and I wanted an excuse to miss it. It is always difficult to be with all the noise and confusion associated with my sister's four kids, but not having Morelli there with me would make it even more difficult. First of all, there will be the concern that I am once again single, and secondly, my mother is on a roll ranting about my need to quit my job. Working on very little sleep, I just did not think I could take the comments.
"Tell me about the cases you are working on for Vinnie."
"I have four open files. The first, a low level bond, is for a fifteen year old girl who stole an undercover police car. As Lula says, she must not be very smart. Why would you otherwise steal a POS like a police car? She was trying to get to the mall though, and no one would give her a ride. The second, also a low level bond, is a man who stole beer and then was arrested in a drunk driving incident. The police report said he had been trying to drink the evidence. I also have two newer medium level bonds. One is a teenager who took her dog for a walk by dragging it down the street out the window of a moving car. The second is an identity theft. She lives in an apartment building and stole a new credit card from her neighbour. She was caught when she used the credit card in a store where her neighbour worked the cash. The neighbour recognized both the thief as well as her own name on the credit card. The arrest report says the police found fifteen other cards in different names in the thief's purse."
"Do you need help with any of them?"
"No thanks, I am good." Ranger was the one who taught me everything I know about skip chasing and, when the skips are particularly violent and dangerous, he will still step in if I am having trouble. While I appreciate his help, I try to handle things as best as I can on my own. While I am more of a bumbler and he is more of a professional, I usually eventually get my felon. And besides, these skips did not appear to be particularly dangerous. "What are you doing this afternoon?"
"I am working out the design for the rework of the control room. I am adding two new monitoring stations to the floor. We have enough clients now that the service is deteriorating. It is simply not possible for two staff to monitor all of our clients effectively. This means you will be moved into your own office. I am keeping you on the Operations floor, but will subdivide Jeremy's office to make room for you."
Thank God. No more dim lights and the need to whisper when you are on the phone. And hopefully no more sleeping.
I cleaned up my garbage and stood. Ranger did the same thing. He walked over to me as I was saying goodbye and gave me a hug. He gave me a light and friendly kiss that quickly turned into something much more serious. I found myself leaning into him as heat flooded through my body. I broke away before it went any farther.
The fact of the matter is that I was confused. I love both Morelli and Ranger. My relationship with Morelli was over, but that didn't mean I no longer loved him. I can't turn it on and off like that. But I also love Ranger. It would be easy to hop into bed with him and I have fallen prey to doing the easy thing periodically in the past. But emotionally right now I was a mess and it wasn't fair to either Ranger or myself to use him on the rebound.
I met Lula at the bonds office and pulled out the Myaneski file. It was only one o'clock, and she should have been in school. If there is one thing I hate, it is picking up skips at school or in front of their parents or little children. Okay, I guess that it is three things I hate. Either way, I don't like capturing teenagers in front of all their friends. There are two options in which the capture could go. It can either make a martyr out of them, in which case the teens will all have learned that it is cool to break the law, or it will ostracize the teen when they get back to school, which my thought says could force the teen into a more serious life of crime out of frustration. I put the Myaneski file aside for following up later in the day and took out the other outstanding low bond.
Jack Sprat – honest to God, that is his name – was arrested for drunk driving as well as theft. He had stolen two cases of beer and held the evidence in his back seat. He started to drink the beer as he tried to get away. Unfortunately for him, he got pulled over for drunk driving. Police put together the theft with the beer cases in the back seat and arrested him on the spot. Lula and I decided to go after Sprat.
"I probably would be a drinker if I had a name like Jack Sprat, too", said Lula.
"I wonder if he is lean?" I asked. Lula looked at me oddly. "You know, the nursery rhyme 'Jack Sprat'?" When Lula still didn't seem to know what I was talking about, I recited the poem. "Jack Sprat could eat no fat. His wife could eat no lean. And so between them both, you see, they licked the platter clean. Jack ate all the lean. Joan ate all the fat. The bone they picked it clean, then they gave it to the cat."
"Hunh. Why would you give a bone to a cat?"
"I don't know. I never really thought about it."
"I wouldn't want no name from no nursery rhyme. That is why I am glad I got the name Lula. My name comes from a crack addicted old clown that my mother met when she was pregnant with me. Much better."
Hunh. If you say so.
"Where does your name come from?" asked Lula.
"If I was a boy I was supposed to be called Stefano after my grandfather on my father's side. My father was sure I would be a boy and refused to consider any names for girls. So when I was born, my father was disappointed. My mother named me Stephanie to honour my grandfather and appease my father."
"Did it work? Was your father appeased?"
"I guess so, although I am still a trial to him."
"Has your mother eased up on you yet?"
"Not at all. She is as determined as ever to get me to quit. She even called Vinnie's wife, Lucille, and asked her to tell Vinnie to fire me."
"He fired you?" Lula sounded horrified.
"No, Vinnie asked me if I was able to do my job and I said yes. He then told me I better not fuck it up, or Lucille would hang him up by his balls. Don't you love working for family?"
"I don't have that problem. I only had my mother and she barely knew when I was in the room. She never would have cared enough about me to want me to quit a dangerous job. She only cared about her next fix. She died when I was sixteen. I have been on my own ever since."
I counted my blessings. My mother was difficult at times, but she was trying to help me in her own way. I thought about how I had been avoiding her calls, and vowed to call her back after I got home that evening.
Jack Sprat lived in an apartment in North Trenton. The apartment was a bare bones type of place. There was no landscaping, the asphalt was ribboned with cracks, and there was no elevator. The outdoor parking lot showed Sprat's car. I phoned his home number and, when he answered the phone, I immediately hung up. "He's in", I said. Lula and I hauled ourselves out of the car and walked in the lobby of the building. There was no security system on the building. We were able to just enter and walk up the three flights of stairs to Sprat's apartment.
We knocked on the door. Sprat opened the door a few inches, leaving the security chain on. The smell of day-old beer wafted out from his pores, his shirt was stained from multiple meals, and his face had a glow from today's current beer consumption. I put my foot in the door so he could not close it and explained to him he had missed his court date and we were there to take him into court to reschedule.
I explained to him again that he had missed his court date and we were there to take him into court to reschedule. He shook his head and I swear I heard the loose screws rattling around.
I explained again. When he just looked at me, stupefied, I said "open the door. You have to let us in now." He lurched to the side and stood back, leaning against the wall. He did not, however, remove the security chain. I looked at Lula and raised my eyebrows.
"Can I shoot it with my gun?" she asked, reaching into her purse.
"No! No guns!" I did not want to say it, but with Lula's bad aim she would likely hit me instead, even if I was standing behind her.
"You're no fun", she said as she took five steps down the hall. Putting her shoulder down like a linebacker, she barreled into the door with enough force to pop the chain. She hit the door and kept on going, the door banging into the wall with so much force the ceiling shook and drywall dust floated down into our eyes. Sprat looked at Lula with big round glassy eyes, a look of incomprehension on his face.
"Ow", said Lula. She righted herself and rubbed her shoulder. "Do you think Vinnie would give me paid time off for that?"
"Somehow I doubt it", I answered. "Bond enforcement", I said to Sprat. I took my cuffs and restrained his wrists behind his back.
"S'what?" he asked, and started to struggle. He took me by surprise as he toppled down onto the ground, taking me with him. While Lula closed and locked all his windows and got his apartment keys, I stood up again. Looking down in disgust at Sprat, I listened to him crying "no! "N'jail."
Lula walked through, jingling the keys in her hand as she looked down at Sprat, shaking her head. "Pathetic. Friggin' pathetic. No wonder his name is Jack Sprat." She went to the closet and got a pair of running shoes. I wedged his feet into them and did up the laces. "You know, whenever I see you do that I always think how funny it would be for you to tie the shoes together. But I think this loser will have enough trouble staying on his feet. We don't need to help matters at all."
Between the two of us and a lot of swearing, we were able to lift him up onto his feet and steady him enough that he stayed there. We walked him out to the hall, shut and locked the door behind us and, with one of us on each side of Sprat, tried to escort him out to my car. He would not come. He dug in his heels and refused to go anywhere with us, repeating over and over "n'jail".
Leaving Lula to steady Sprat against the wall, I ran back into his apartment and helped myself to a beer from his fridge. I relocked his door and joined them in the hall. "Do you want this beer?" I asked. Sprat nodded his head, straining his head towards the beer and opening and closing his mouth like a little bird waiting for the worm. I walked backwards down the hall, keeping the beer just out of his reach. Sprat lurched along, following the beer down the hall. Lula steadied him on the stairs as we walked down, me backwards, all the while holding the beer in front of him. When we got to the car I put him in the backseat. Getting behind the wheel, I said "you cannot drink your beer right now since your hands are behind you. When we get to the precinct I will take you into the docking station and I will give you your beer there."
"Bweer. N'jail", he said.
I drove back to the bonds office and dropped Lula off with arrangements for me to pick her up again when I was done at the police station. Lula did not want to come with me to the precinct. Despite her change in profession from hooker to file clerk, she was still nervous around cops and tried to avoid them at all costs. With my break-up with Morelli, I was not feeling any more confident than Lula going into the station. I hoped I wouldn't run into Joe while I was there.
I parked at the drop off doors and hauled Sprat out of the car. Performing the fastest drop off in history, I raced out of the parking lot and back to the bonds office before Morelli could be alerted to my presence.
Picking up Lula, we decided to go after Myaneski again. I drove to her house, parking two houses down the street. We surveyed the neighbourhood. It was relatively quiet. There were two little girls skipping on the driveway four houses down the street, and a senior out tending her flowers across the street and down one house. I would prefer to capture the girl without spectators, but what can you do? Lula and I weren't going to lose an opportunity if we could help it.
We rang the doorbell and waited, listening to the dog barking as it ran to the front door. After waiting a few minutes, I rang the doorbell again. After waiting a few more minutes I rang the doorbell again. A moment later a rumple haired teenager came to the door. "Are you never going to give up? I am trying to take a nap."
"Bond enforcement", I said, and snagged one of her wrists in cuffs. "Are your parents home?"
"No, and you can't do this. HELP! HELP! THEY ARE TRYING TO KIDNAP ME!" The little girls stopped skipping and one of them ran inside to get her mother. The gardener got up as fast as her arthritic knees would let her and walked across the street towards us.
I could see that this was heading south fast. "Where are your parents now?" I asked.
"I am not telling. HELP! HELP! CALL THE POLICE!"
"Call the police. Then they can take your sorry ass off to jail for us. You can explain to them why you stole one of their cars", said Lula.
"What are you doing with Virginia?" asked the gardening granny as she walked up the front walkway.
I clicked the other cuff on Virginia's other wrist and held onto her with one hand, rooting around in my bag with the other. "Virginia stole a police car a little while ago when she wanted to go to the mall and no one would take her. Her family took out a bond to pay for her bail. A week ago she was supposed to show up in court and answer to the charges. She failed to appear. This means that she is now a wanted felon." By now the little girl's mother had joined the group in front of the Myaneski house. "I have my Right to Apprehend papers here if you would like to see them. However, if you would prefer to have the police come to pick up Virginia in the back of the cruiser, that is all right with me. I get paid either way."
"Virginia!" said the little girl's mother, "you are Jessica's babysitter! How does this look for you to be taken away by the police? I don't think I want you babysitting my daughter again."
I looked at Virginia and saw the tears rolling down her face. She rubbed her nose against her shoulder, leaving a trail of snot across her sleeve in a shiny track. "Why did you not just show up at court in the first place?"
"My m-m-mother told me that they w-w-would put me in j-j-jail, and that they w-w-would make me use the t-t-toilet in front of everybody."
"I hear you. Those open toilets scare everyone", said Lula. "What I want to know is why you wanted to steal a police car in the first place? If you were going to get charged with theft, why would you not make it worth your while and steal a decent car?"
"It was easy. I didn't realize it was a police car. I just noticed he left the keys in the car when he went in to buy some doughnuts."
"Now you have missed your court date, you have to go back into the station and go through the whole process again to obtain a new date. We have the right to take you in now. We can either take you in personally, or we can call the police and have them pick you up and take you in. What I would suggest, no matter what option you choose, is for us to call your parents and let them know what is happening. I will call your mother now – what is her number?" Punching in Mrs. Myaneski's number, I called her, introduced myself and explained the situation. I then held the phone to Virginia's ear and let her talk to her mother. By this time people were starting to arrive home from work and came over to join the other neighbours on the front lawn.
Virginia got off the phone. "My parents will meet me here in a few minutes. My mom said she would prefer for me to go to the station in a police car."
"You certainly seem to like them a lot", said Lula.
I dialed dispatch and asked for a squad car to come and pick Virginia up. By the time the cops showed up the group had grown to fifteen neighbours and three dogs on the front lawn. Eddie Gazurra and Thomas Nilchinni were the two officers in the car.
"Causing problems again, Steph?" asked Eddie. I had known Eddie since I was in diapers. We had attended school together and he was now married to my cousin, Shirley-the-whiner.
"That's me. Little Miss Trouble Maker."
"How are you doing? I haven't seen you around for a while."
"I am working part-time with Vinnie and part-time doing research at Rangeman right now. I'm not sure how long it will last. Research puts me to sleep. But it's safe for the time being."
"I wasn't on duty when everything went down three weeks ago and I've often wondered since how you were doing. Shirley and I are there for you if you need us."
"Thanks, Eddie." I swallowed back tears.
"What went down three weeks ago?" asked Virginia.
I ignored her. "Virginia's mother is on her way over here and should be here soon. If I can get my paperwork signed and my cuffs back, I will pass over Virginia to you." We transferred cuffs and I left Virginia with Thomas and walked with Eddie back to the squad car.
"I am serious, Steph. I can't imagine what you are going through. I know Morelli looks like shit and he is barking at everyone and anyone in the office who dares to get in his way, and he wasn't there when it all happened. If you need me, you know where I am."
"Thanks", I said, and reached up and kissed his cheek. I took the paperwork out of his hands and walked back to Lula, who was shifting from one foot to another and looking nervously at Thomas. "I've got our paperwork, Lula. Let's roll. I'm in training this afternoon and I can't be late."
"Are you doing more shooting lessons?" asked Lula.
"No. Self-defense training."
"I wouldn't mind getting all hot and sweaty in the gym with Ranger. Do you think he would teach me self-defense?"
"No, I am pretty sure he only trains Rangeman staff. And he only trains me personally because he feels sorry for me. You are better at self-defense than I am. You always have your signature move to fall back on."
"Yeah, that's true. What is my signature move again?"
"Jumping on them and squishing them like a little bug."
"Oh, yeah. WHAM! That signature move."