"There you go Ed" I hand over Mr Robinson and shake my head as he waddles off in his tighty whities, followed closely by a cop.
"You are on some lucky streak huh?" Someone says behind me and I roll my eyes before turning around to face Eddie, whose mask is askew and hanging under his nose. "Haven't heard about your car exploding in a while."
"You know the whole point of the masks is to wear them over your mouth AND nose?" I retort. "You are a cop, if you wanna enforce those rules, you may wanna follow them too."
"Ehh the WHO changes their mind every day about these muzzels. Besides I hate smelling my own breath."
"Now you know how we all feel being in your vicinity." I almost laugh at the confused look on his face. Three...two..one…
"OH hahah" He brushes past me and into the bullpen.
"Bye" I call after him with a laugh and walk out of the station. My mood dampens when I open the door to my POS Ford and I am reminded that Mr Robinson peed in my car. Despite the plastic partition, which I mounted on myself and may not be airtight, does nothing to keep the pee smell in the backseat. "Fuck" I mutter, close the door and walk around the car to the trunk to grab the antibacterial spray and kitchen roll.
There is a knock on the window, while I clean the backseat. Surprising the hell out of me and causing me to jerk my head up in surprise and in turn bang my head against the roof. Rubbing my head, I reverse out of the backseat and straighten, only to be faced with the hottest man in Trenton. "Heard you are having a good month" Ranger smiles and pushes his sunglasses up on top of his head. Despite it only being April, it is warm and the sun is out in full force today. Yesterday it was cold as hell and it snowed. April really does what it wants.
"I have" I grin. I made more this month than I have in the last six months combined. "Since the lockdown, they are easier to find." I shrug.
"In your case maybe…" He mutters loud enough for me to hear, while rounding the car.
"The big fish not biting?"
He stops by my side. Close enough for me to smell his aftershave. "They have gone down the river and disappeared into the fucking ocean." I smile even more. "Despite the mask, I can tell you are smiling at my expense Plum" Ranger grumbles.
I pull down my black biker mask and smile at him openly. "I have gotten so used to this dumb thing...the other day I smiled at an old lady while I helped her put her shopping in her trunk and she didn't reciprocate it. Got all in a huff about it till I got to my car and saw myself in the mirror. Mask and sunglasses…" I shake my head. "I miss being able to see people's facial expressions."
"Yeah, with the masks on, you cannot tell if someone is going to shoot at you or not" He comments and only then I realize his bicep is wrapped in a white bandage.
"Just a nick…" Ranger shrugs.
"Well then, how did this nick happen?"
"One of the new hires thought that the Skip was giving up and stood up from behind cover…"
"And you jumped in and saved him." Ranger shrugs nonchalantly.
"Batman, did you not have your mind reading device with you?" I tease.
"Not this time" He winks. "I gotta go in there see the chief."
"Gotcha...call me if you need help finding those big fish." While I might be busy with the way Vinnie keeps bailing people out, I gotta build myself a nest egg in case this Corona thing lasts longer. With everyone having to stay home, I don't anticipate many petty crimes being committed and bailed out for me to haul them in. I really, really do not want move in with my parents.
He waves over his shoulder in acknowledgement that he heard me, before he disappears inside of the station.
Once I clean and disinfect the rest of the backseat, I jump behind the wheel and drive to my next skip. Randy Lopez. His file says he stole food from a Supermarket bin, which was still on the Supermarkets property and not out on the street for collection, hence making it trespassing. This should be an easy one.
"Does Randy Lopez live here?" I ask the young girl, who just opened the door for me. She has colorful braids which would make Lula green with envy.
"DAAAAAD" She shouts over her shoulder and steps aside to let me pass.
"WHAT?" Comes from the back of the house, which has me smiling. Interactions like this happened nearly everyday in our house growing up, much to my mothers dismay.
"You going back to the clink" The young girl retorts with a smirk and snicker, before running up the stairs.
A mexican man appears at the end of the hall muttering under his breath. "What in….OH." He stills when he sees me and the badge hanging around my neck.
"Randy Lopez?" I ask.
"Can I finish before you cart me off?" He questions, instead of answering me.
"Depends how long it will take" I tell him and approach carefully. They always seem calm at first, trying to lure you into a false sense of security, before making a runner.
"Oh, I will be done in ten minutes" And with that he turns around. "Come back here. There is Ice Tea in the fridge, just help yourself." When I follow him into the open plan, living room and kitchen space, I am surprised to find Randy sitting down in front of a sewing machine, which has been put up on the kitchen table.
I grab a glass of Ice Tea and sit down next to him. Watching what he is doing. "I have no patience for this."
"It keeps idle hands busy" He chuckles. "In my teens I worked in a Laundry shop that also offered Alteration services. Needless to say I picked up a few things. Comes in very handy now."
"Why now?" I query, but deep down I already know why.
"I lost my job due to all of this bullshit with the China virus" Randy just shrugs again.
"Corona" The girl corrects when she walks through the door and beelines it for the fridge.
"Yeah, sure whatever. It originated in China…" They must have had that conversation multiple times, because the girl just rolls her eyes. "Anyway, I lost my job and cannot make all ends meet. Hence the trespassing charge…"
"I am sorry to hear that" It is not the first time I heard that someone lost their job due to Covid.
"It is what it is" Randy shrugs once more and then pushes away from the table. "Alright I am done, let's get this over with."
Two down, two more to go.
After I dropped Randy off at the cop shop and disinfected the back seat once more, I drive to Anna Petrov's place of residence. She punched a Supermarket worker after they told her she could not shop there without a mask. The eighty year old must pack quite a punch, because according to the file the employee's face was quite swollen and blue afterwards.
Anna opens the door in a skimpy red bikini and as much as I want to clamp my eyes shut and bleach my brain, I cannot do so. You never know what they might throw at you. Besides the Bikini is not the only thing I would like to bleach from my brain. The heat and smell that is coming out of her apartment is so bad, that I have to push down the urge to puke. Maybe, instead of the cheap biker mask, I should have invested in one of those fancy masks that purify the air.
"I am not going back to jail" She announces when she spots my badge and then tries to shut the door on me, but fortunately my reflexes have improved over the years and the door meets my steel cap boot instead.
"Too bad. You should have attended your court date then." I tell her. "My name is Stephanie Plum and I am a Bonds enforcement agent."
"They all have the Ching Chong Virus" I barely supress a sigh. It is impressive how many different names people come up with for Covid. "I ain't going" Anna declares and quickly disappears into the depth of her apartment. Fuck, now I have to follow her into this stinky hole.
I take a deep breath of semi fresh air outside of her door, before following her. In the hallway, I push past a mountain of pasta and toilet paper and then check the kitchen and bedroom, where all windows have been sealed off with cling film. In the end I find Anna in the bathroom, sitting in the bathtub filled with what smells like Antibacterial gel. She keeps scooping the gel up with her hands and letting it rain down on herself. "I am not going" She reiterates, like a petulant child.
Not being able to hold my breath any longer, I let it out and carefully take a small breath in. It doesn't smell as bad in here, thanks to the copious amounts of Anti Bacterial Gel, which would be better put to use in the local hospital, who are currently facing a shortage. "Well, you have to, so how about you get out of that tub?"
"Where did you get this much Disinfectant from anyway?" There is a shortage in Trenton and people have resulted in making their own.
"I slipped the coroner a few bucks." She shrugs as if that is no big deal and not illegal.
This puts me into a predicament. I should call the cops immediately, but I need the money she brings in. But on the other hand this stuff isn't going anywhere, so I will just text Joe about this once I brought her in.
With that decision made, I grab my cuffs from my belt and step closer. "I AM NOT GOING" She screeches so high that I am worried my eardrums might shatter and then starts throwing the Gel at me. For an eighty year old her aim is quite impressive. She lands a couple of hits, one to my chest, the other lands on my leg, but misses the third one, because I freign right, only to go left and before she realises what is up, I manage to grab one of her slippery hands.
When I just about manage to put one cuff on her wrist, I see out of my peripheral vision her right hand, filled with Gel, coming towards me, but I do not manage to defend myself in time. The Gel hits my face, making my eyes sting. Quickly, before I go blind, I bring one of my arms up to wipe some of it away and Anna seizes the moment and my divided attention to yank at the cuff with her whole body, causing me to lose my balance and fall right into the tub.
"For fuck sakes" I growl while trying to steady myself, but everything is so goddam slippery. My clothes are getting wetter by the second. Anna tries to push herself out of the tub, but I quickly clamp down on her legs as much as I can with one hand. With the other hand I grab the cuff dangling from her wrist and slip it onto the bathtub railing before clicking it in place.
"You BITCH" the old woman screeches and tries to hit me again, but this time, with both of my hands now free, I can block her.
"What is going on here?" A voice that sounds familiar shouts from outside the apartment, followed by heavy boots coming down the hallway.
"Les?" I query, while unsuccessfully trying to get out of the tub.
"Steph?" Les pokes his head around the corner. "Watcha doing?"
While I cannot see his mouth due to the mask he is wearing, I can tell by his eyes that he is laughing. "Wipe that laugh off your face and help me out of this thing!"
"You gotta help me, Sir...I am being held against my will" Anna wimmers and her eyes turn watery. "I am just an old lady and this woman barged into my home without a cause."
"Don't try acting, you are bad at it" I shoot her a glare and then smile gratefully at Les. "Thank you. What are you doing here?"
"Visiting an informant. Heard the shouting and thought I'd check it out." He replies. "Is that...?"
"Yupp… can I borrow your cuffs for a sec?" Without another word, he hands them over. I grab Anna's other slippery arm, but one cuff around that one and then put the other one around the other wrist, before removing my cuffs and then switching them over. Luckily she doesn't resist this time and in no time I hand Les his cuffs back.
"Well at least they are now well sanitized" Les smirks. "Need help to get her up and down to your car?"
"Please" I nod.
Once Anna is out of the tub, I wrap her in a towel and put some slippers on her, before we guide her down the stairs and lock her into the car.
"This has to be the weirdest thing I have seen so far" Les comments and pulls off his mask.
I do the same with mine. "No shit…This thing is making people go crazy." I shake my head. "Ranger mentioned he cannot find his big fish."
"It's worse than usual...It's like playing whack-a-mole….Anyway I gotta get going. Call me if you need anything."
"Sure thing" I nod, before getting into the driver seat.
"Wouldn't mind getting him between my sheets" Anna comments and through the rear-view mirror I can see her eyes following Les' ass.
I suppress the urge to puke once more and start the engine. Three down, one more to go for the day.
"You will need to speak to my attorney about that" I state and lean back in the Chief's visitor chair. "Or better yet, get a warrant."
"Mr Manoso, we require your cooperation in this regard." District Attorney Weller almost growls.
Not fazed even a little, I shot him a look that would make many men piss their pants. "Since you brought this to my attention a month ago, our executive officers have conducted an internal investigation and nothing has surfaced. Either you hand over all of the evidence you claim to have right now, so I can have a look at it myself, or you have to go through my attorney. I am not about to let you question my men and give you access to my systems without a warrant."
"Mr Manoso" Trentons Chief of Police starts, but I hold my hand up when I feel my phone vibrate in my pants for the third time in under a minute. Everyone, who knows me and requires my immediate assistance, is aware that if I don't pick up after three rings to hang up and call right back. I fish my phone out of my pocket and pick up without looking at the display. "Go"
"Stephanie's Car exploded in Woodside."
I am already out of my chair and half out the door, barking orders at Tim, the new hire on the phone, before I turn around to face the two men in the Chiefs office "Evidence or Warrent, ball's in your court."
When I pull up to the address Tim sent through to my phone, I discover that Les, Hector and Bobby already beat me here and are crouched next to Steph who is sitting on the sidewalk, with her head between her hands. Not only is her car currently being put out by the fire department but so is the house on the opposite side of the street. "What happened?" I ask once I get closer.
"I can-can't" Babe barely gets the words out. I look at Les only to realise he is clamping his lips shut and his eyes are sparkling with amusement. My gaze flicks to Bobby, but he too seems to by trying not to laugh.
"Babe?" I question and when she lifts her head, I see that she isn't crying or upset, she is laughing. "Someone tell me right now what the hell is going on."
Hector is the one to finally answer me. "They threw Hand Sanitizer Molotov cocktails at her."
"That wouldn't be enough to make it explode" I comment.
"No...when they realized it wasn't having the desired effect, they got actual alcohol instead." Steph shakes her head. "Only their aim was off and they managed to hit the newly delivered fuel in the front yard of that house." That would explain why the house is on fire too. "So they hit the fuel, which exploded and my car and the house were collateral damage."
"Where are the idiots?" I query.
"Cuffed in the cruiser" Les jerks his head to the cop car that is parked on the corner.
"You should have seen their surprised faces" Steph's lips twitch.
"You are unharmed?" I ask and run my eyes all over her body.
"Yupp. Once they started lobbing fiery cocktails, I hid in the yard next door."
"Good Girl" I smile and pull her up and into a hug. "You hungry? Ella made your favorite."
"Pizza?" Steph pulls away with a smile and I only nod. I have yet to tell her that Ella's pizza is made from Coconut and Almond flour.