traffic stop

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Chapter 16

The evening after Jordan had been admitted to the crisis facility, Mary and Kristin stood waiting in the judges’ parking lot in the back of the courthouse. Right on time, Detective Joseph Russo pulled up next to them in his squad car.

“Good evening, ladies,” he drawled, stepping out of the car and bowing as he disabled the lock and opened the back door for them.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” Kristin replied, as Mary nodded enthusiastically.

“Did you review the safety rules?”

“Not to worry, detective.” Kristin hoped her no-nonsense reply would put a damper on any unnecessary machismo from the brash detective. She hopped in the back, next to the wire cage used for arrests, signaling the front passenger seat to Mary. Joseph looked pleased.

“Well, if someone told me I was going to have two beautiful women with me on a Wednesday night, riding around south St. Petersburg in a patrol car, I’d have asked them what they were smoking.”

Kristin grimaced.

“Give it up, Joseph.” Mary turned to Kristin and hid her smile. A night with these two strong personalities and big egos was going to be interesting, Mary thought, no matter how exciting or dull the ride-along might be.

Indeed, the night was long and by mid-shift, the women agreed that police work was not very glamorous. They watched officers bring in a boyfriend accused of domestic violence, toddlers screaming as they clung to their mother’s skirt. They drove home a young kid Joseph knew was involved with gangs. They scattered some older teens selling marijuana on an empty dirt lot. They honked at a few drunks loitering outside a run-down liquor store.

“Mundane and a lot of driving,” Kristin sighed.

“I’m glad you’re getting a firsthand look at this part of St. Petersburg, the near south side,” Mary said. “So many of the kids referred to us come from these neighborhoods. We are less than a mile from the fancy condos, restaurants and art galleries on the downtown waterfront, and yet we’re in an area of the highest crime, most drug use, most drive by shootings and gun arrests, and the most incidents of child abuse and neglect. Yet there are fine people who live here, who care about their kids, the schools and their church. I see them in court all the time. Many feel trapped by their surroundings, their neighborhood.”

Kristin leaned forward and patted Mary’s shoulder. “Thank you and Joseph for inviting me. Indeed, it’s a learning experience and I admire Joseph and the other police officers who can keep alert and attentive during routine times.”

“I admire you for being so willing to come. I know you’re busy learning about the juvenile division.”

As they drove slowly through the darkened neighborhoods, Joseph entertained them with stories about his life as a New York City cop. A lot more action, big drug arrests and gangland shootings. Also, department politics and plenty of women.

“But, enough about me. You can read it all on my Facebook page. Plus, you’ll see a lot of pictures of my Harley.”

Both women groaned.

“Neither of us are active on Facebook, Joseph,” Mary said. “We fear the little delinquents in court might start getting too personal or find out too much about us.”

“You can keep it private. Only your friends can view it.”

“Are you kidding?” Kristin moaned. “Teenage hackers are in court a lot. If only they would direct that talent and savvy to something constructive, like Steve Jobs inventions or writing great music.”

“Speaking of music, man, that’s one of my big interests and favorite way to relax. Growing up in Queens and working in the city gave me great appreciation for music. I’d mooch tickets off my superintendents or some show producers who wanted extra security. Madison Garden, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center. I saw a lot of big shows.”

He pulled onto the shoulder, leaned over the dashboard and fiddled with some equipment. Thirty seconds later, Kristin and Mary jumped in their seats as loud male voices boomed from his small I Pod, speakers attached.

“Maybe it’s the way she walks...”

He turned up the volume and when they put their hands over their ears, he pulled back onto the road.

“Come on and dance with me...” He sang and swayed to the music, driving slower.

“The story of my life,” he crooned with the next selection. “I take her home/ I drive all night/ to keep her warm/ And time is frozen/ the story of my life/ I give her hope/ I spend her love/ until she’s broke inside...”

He turned to look at Mary. She leaned over to give him a quick warm hug and ruffled his hair. She cared about Joseph deeply. They had each other’s back and had for a long time.

“That’s ‘One Direction.’ Hottest men’s vocal group going, man. The reason I put it on tonight is that they are coming to the amphitheater in a couple of weeks. We cops get solicited for undercover work when famous people perform. They send us some free tickets. Our job is to circulate through the crowd, dressed in street clothes, looking for drug use, fights, unwelcome sex or whatever.”

Kristin looked about to say something back, but she pointed out the side window instead.

“Mary, look out your window. Isn’t that Mikayla from court?”

Kristin pointed to a young girl running out of Walgreens, chased by a store clerk. Joseph turned on the flashing lights and siren, driving on a diagonal to trap Mikayla with the car. He got out and called to her, a name he had heard just once.

“Mikayla, hold up. Now.” His voice was firm, unwavering.

Mikayla stopped and looked up at the detective towering over her. She tried to stuff the nail polish she held into the waistband of her skirt. The skirt was stained with what looked like dried blood. Joseph got Mary’s attention and pointed to the bruises around her neck and arms.

“What’s going on Mikayla?” His voice became gentle.

“Oh nothing, just trying to get home before curfew.”

She forced a smile as the Walgreens clerk caught up to them.

“Officer, our video surveillance shows she picked up some nail polish and didn’t pay.”

“Is that right Mikayla?” He held out his hand and she slowly plucked from her waistband three small bottles of nail polish. Candy Apple Red, Pumpkin Orange and Ghost White. He twirled them in his hand as the clerk identified them.

Mikayla glared at Joseph stone faced.

“What’s your last name and home address?”

She remained silent.

“Okay. I’m going to send you to the juvenile assessment center.”

As he started to handcuff her, Kristin and Mary got out of the car. Joseph raised his had to stop them.

“Judge Dahlen, Dr. Visconti. Please return to the car per the agreed-upon safety rules while I restrain the subject and she is transported. I’m calling for a backup car to take her.”

He was clearly in charge, barking his request into the police radio pinned to his epaulet.

“Oh, Joseph, please. She’s a fourteen-year-old girl we know well through court, not a serial killer.” Mary pleaded with her eyes, hands and voice.

Joseph didn’t have time to think about it because Kristin quickly walked over to Mikayla. Mary wondered what he would do. Would he feel some special obligation to protect a circuit judge?

Kristin put her hands on Mikayla’s bony shoulders, turning her to see her face. “This is not what we discussed in court last week, Mikayla. You should be home at this time of night. Your mother is probably very worried.”

“Damn right, she’s worried,” Joseph said. “I just got a call on my radio that her mother called her in as a runaway last night.”

“Last night,” Mary repeated as she moved closer to Mikayla. She saw the bruises, the blood stains and what appeared to be cigarette burns on her upper legs.

“She’s been on the street for a while. What happened to you, Mikayla? Who did this?”

A small, thin black man who looked to be in his twenties whistled from a car parked nearby, then he stepped out of the car. He looked confident and smug, standing next to the driver’s door in a tri-color satin jacket and black jeans.

“Hey, Sugar, where’d you go?” he called.

Mikayla’s eyes opened wide. “I finished early and picked up some nail polish.”

Mary and Kristin exchanged looks. Mikayla’s mother, Rakisha Wright, was afraid that her daughter was being exploited by older men. The running away, the cell phone, calls from an adult male. It was all adding up. Mary could feel her Italian temper boiling.

“Germaine, they are going to lock me up,” Mikayla wailed.

“No worries. It’s just a small theft. They will let you go tomorrow morning.” He smirked, lighting a cigarette.

Two patrol cars arrived on the scene, responding to Joseph’s call for backup. Germaine got back in his car. Mary’s eyes followed him.

“Slimey coward. I guess he’s leaving now that the heat’s picking up,” she said softly to Kristin, who was glaring at him.

Germaine ignored them, looking only at Mikayla. “It’s okay, baby girl. I’ll see you soon. They can’t hold you.” He leaned out the driver’s window, laughing nervously.

“I can’t believe he’s so brazen as to talk to her in front of us, and Joseph,” Kristin whispered to Mary. “What a jerk.”

But Mary was already making her move. “I don’t think so, big guy. Mikayla is going to the Baker Act unit until I can find a placement for her.”

She was walking towards Germaine when Joseph caught her by the arm.

“This is why ride along participants are supposed to stay in the car until the suspect is secured.”

Germaine laughed out the open window. “Relax, my man. No problem here. The doctor can’t Baker Act her. She’s not trying to kill herself.”

Joseph looked at Mary, then at Kristin.

Their backs were up, their arms were crossed. They weren’t backing down, they were not getting back in the car. They knew this girl. This skinny little shoplifter with a body full of bruises. Now, they had a reason to believe that Germaine was Mikayla’s pimp.

Kristin leaned back on the squad car, letting Mary take the lead.

“I know what he’s doing to you, Mikayla. The bruises, the burns, the blood on your skirt, you ‘finishing early.’ It needs to stop.”

“Leave him alone, Dr. Visconti. I love him. It was only a few times. We needed the money to pay for my cell phone and some food. We can help my mother,” Mikayla screamed.

“Shut the fuck up,” Germaine growled from the open window.

Mikayla looked from him to the detective, to the others. Mary could see her fear. She didn’t know what to do. She was tired, dirty and hurt. Worse yet, she had made Germaine mad. “Let us help you. It doesn’t have to be this way.” Kristin put her arm around her.

“You’re hurt, Mikayla,” Mary said, glaring at Germaine. He must know his presence chilled Mikayla. She won’t say anything with him around.

“He didn’t mean it, Dr. Visconti. It was my fault. I was bad. I didn’t listen,” Mikayla pleaded. Mary put her arm around Mikayla.

Germaine turned the ignition on as Mikayla sobbed on Mary’s shoulder. He put it in reverse and started to back out.

Joseph took three quick steps and reached into the window, grabbing the keys and shutting off the engine. He pulled Germaine half out of the driver’s door.

“Hold up scumbag,” he said, his face inches from Germaine. “There’s a jail cell waiting for you.”

Germaine cursed and screamed at Mikayla. “You lie, you stupid bitch.”

Joseph dragged Germaine out of the car to the sidewalk and handcuffed him as he squirmed under his grip, working with the backup officer to lock him in his squad car.

“Meet you at the jail,” he said to the officer. “Start writing up something about lewd and lascivious around a minor. Something along those lines.”

“So much for the ride along.” Joseph dusted away any lingering particle of Germaine.

Mary knew that she’d scared Joseph when she confronted Germaine. Even with police present, Germaine could have pulled a gun.

She looked at the second deputy who had responded, standing by his car. He was ready to take Mikayla to the juvenile assessment center. He signaled to Mikayla, who looked resigned, hoping she would not be held overnight.

“Hold up officer,” Mary said. “I want to initiate a Baker Act.”

The deputy looked skeptical. “Is she suicidal?”

“We will not be able to hold her after advisories, “Mary answered. “She is going to run right back here.”

“That may be true, but I don’t think it meets criteria, Doc,” the deputy said.

“I say it does. It’s my license that gives me the right to invoke. Mikayla’s life is at risk even with the help of her family and friends. Look at her injuries. Listen to what she said.”

Kristin and Joseph exchanged glances. Mary rarely pulled the “I’m the doctor” card but what the hell else could she do?

“Okay, Doc,” the officer said, reaching into his squad car for the involuntary admission forms. “We’ll drive her to the crisis psychiatric unit once you fill out the paperwork. This decision is yours.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mary said, lacking confidence but scribbling in the required information.

They drove back to the courthouse without joking, without music.

“Ladies, I am going to put child locks on the door for the next ride along,” Joseph sighed.

Kristin and Mary ignored him, their thoughts on what Mikayla had been through in a mere twenty-four hours.

Mary’s cell phone rang.

“Mary, its John from the crisis unit. You want to explain to me why we have this fourteen- year-old, non-suicidal, non-homicidal girl in the intake area?”

“Look John, the statute says that if a life is at risk, even with the help of family and friends, the Baker Act can be invoked.”

“Pretty broad interpretation, Mary.”

“Just admit her for the 72 hours allowed and let me see if I can work out a placement,” Mary pleaded.

“Okay, Doc, but you will need to clear this with the physician in charge of rounds tomorrow morning.”

He hung up. All was silent in the squad car as they neared the courthouse.

Then all of a sudden Kristin startled them. She first beat a rhythm on her knees and then sang loud.

“This slope is treacherous/this path is reckless/this slope is treacherous/And I, I, like it/ will like it/this hope is treacherous/this day dream’s dangerous/this hope is treacherous and I I, I I I,I ,I will follow you home you home/ I will follow you home…..”

“Taylor Swift, from her hit album Red,” Joseph shouted.

“Correct, Detective Russo. She’s my favorite rock star. She’s going to be on television New Year’s Eve, with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffith. Now to show you how eclectic we are, I bet you couldn’t guess what songs Mary and I listen to at Café Paris, while nibbling on croissants.”

“You got me. No, I can’t,” Joseph said.

“Tony Bennett, especially his duets. The café’s owner plays them constantly.”

Joseph put the squad car into park while whistling approval.

As they got out, Joseph paused and looked at Mary.

“So what’s the end game here, Mary?”

“I‘ll work something out with the doctor in the morning. He’s the psychiatrist and medical director of the crisis unit. I already have a psychiatric residential packet put together for her. I just need to find a residential placement.”

“That wasn’t what I meant, Mary.”

“Sorry, Joseph, I’m just wrapped up in the events.”

“You look a little pale. Did standing up to Germaine take something out of you?”

“No. It wasn’t that. I had to stand up to him or I couldn’t expect Mikayla to.”

“Thank God you arrested him, Joseph,” Kristin added.

“A pitcher of beer bets you two that old Germaine is released tonight,” Joseph volunteered. “There’s really not enough to hold him. Just some suggestive words on his part and she will never testify against him. She’s his willing slave. We need to catch him in the act. I was just so pissed. Her injuries. She’s so young,” his voiced drifted off.

“You’re a good man, Detective Russo,” Kristin patted his arm. “I’ll buy that pitcher of beer without the bet. I’m grateful for the ride along.”

“It’s been a long night, ladies. I’m sure you both are tired”.

“Well, maybe a little,” Mary said, still mulling over the legalities. “I think the real reason I look shaky is because I did the wrong thing for the right reason with the Baker Act. Even though I knew Mikayla had to be secured, there are going to be consequences down the line. We’re going to end up holding her in the detention center, seeing her in court and having to release her.”

“Wrong thing for the right reason,” echoed Kristin. “You can never really escape those consequences.”

She gave them each a hug and walked through the parking lot, swaying her hips, tapping her feet and singing louder than she or they ever expected. She turned to them as she reached her car.

“Maybe it’s the way you dance/this slope is treacherous/this path is reckless/day dreams are dangerous/Maybe it’s the way you dance…”

She took a bow, blew a kiss and hopped into her car.

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