Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Two--Chapter 2

Ironman Sam gave new meaning to the word “workout.” For this, I loved and hated him in equal measures, though not always simultaneously. As I walked to the parking lot, it was a lot more of the latter.
I returned to my truck, a 1978 International Scout II, and tossed the sling onto the seat. I’d found the Scout four years before by happenstance. I’d been selling my Mercedes, a reminder of a life I no longer had nor wanted, and Stan had been looking to buy something new for his wife. There was something about Stan I liked, and he must have known then that he was dying. I knocked a big chunk off the price of the Mercedes, and he threw in the Scout.
Talking around an ever-present cigarette between his lips, Stan had told me he’d purchased the thing new in ’77 and, being a mechanic, he had done all the work himself. With one glance, it was obvious it had been impeccably—and lovingly—maintained. The Scout is a thing of beauty. It’s hunter green with a white removable hard top. The interior is an Army-tan color. Everything works as well as it had the day it rolled off the manufacturing floor.
And almost everything is original. Shortly after Stan died, the lock on the tailgate busted—the truck’s way of mourning, no doubt. I never replaced it because I knew Stan would never approve of anything less than an original Scout part, and my half-assed attempts to locate one had turned up zilch. But the open tailgate had been how the kidnappers had succeeded in grabbing me, so I’d gotten serious about repairing it. My new mechanic, Manny, had fixed it for an exceptionally reasonable price.
Later, I’d also had Manny install a new soft top, a sailcloth Replace-a-Top, kidnappers be damned. I’d debated but ultimately gone ahead because I wasn’t sure Stan would be disappointed. The thing looked amazing. Besides, I was carefully storing the hardtop; it could go back on at any time.
The second addition was a small toolbox bolted to the floor behind the backseat. This fugitive recovery gig required certain equipment, and not only did I not want to haul it around with me if I didn’t need it, but I didn’t want it falling into the hands of anyone else. Three of the handguns I own had been used by bad guys for bad reasons; I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.
The weather in Colorado is predictably unpredictable, but by this time in June, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be hot. Today was no exception. At ten a.m., it was upwards of ninety degrees. I rolled up the sides of the soft top, wincing once or twice at the strain on my shoulder, then climbed back in the truck.
I motored out to Prospect and headed east to Sideline Investigations and Bail Bonds, conveniently located about a mile from the detention center. Sideline Investigations and Bail Bonds is owned and operated by a retired cop and his long-time friend. Wesley Meeker had been a cop in Orlando, Florida, for fifteen years before moving his family to Fort Collins, where he worked as a detective for another fifteen years. Shortly after he retired, he realized how incredibly bored he was and started taking on private cases just to keep busy. He is a born investigator, and it’s turned out that’s all he really knows how to do.
His friend Mickey Sands had been an investment banker in Florida until the whole market/economic crash/crisis thing. He got out just before everything went belly-up and decided Colorado was as good a place as any to spend his golden years. But he could only play so much golf. He ended up dabbling in a few business ventures here and there until his best friend made passing mention of a private investigating firm.
One thing led to another, and soon they were set up with an office. Sands worked on running and building the business while Meeker did the investigating. Within a year, they’d hired two associates to handle their growing caseload. A year after that, Sands pushed Meeker into bail bonds because there was such money to be made. Meeker protested on principle, believing there was something wrong with a former cop helping criminals get out of jail, and left a large part of that to Sands. Now the partners had six full-time investigators and four full-time bond enforcement agents. There are others, like me, who work on a case-by-case basis.
In looking for whoever had stabbed and killed my client, I’d gotten on the trail of Tyler Jakowski, a.k.a. Tyler Jay. Tyler Jay had been Larimer County’s number-one most wanted fugitive for several months running, but I didn’t have any trouble finding him. After a few minutes on the computer, I had a couple doors to knock on. Tyler had answered the first one. But he had a dirty cop tipping him off, and it proved more difficult for the cops to actually arrest him.
In total, I found Tyler Jay three times in about a week. My information eventually led to his capture, and I was paid the $15,000 reward he’d had on his head. It was this that caused Ellmann to suggest fugitive recovery to me in the first place. It seemed I had a knack for it.
Looking to get out of property management and for something I might not be easily fired from, I’d taken the weekend training and certification course. A week later, I’d walked into Sideline with a certificate of completion and a badge the state gives with it, which looks a lot like it came out of a Cracker Jack box. It was the sixth bonds office I’d hit up, and I thought surely it would be my sixth strikeout. I’d started with the smaller companies, thinking they would be more likely to take on someone with no experience, and had gone to Sideline last because it was the biggest in the area. But Dean Amerson, the office manager, had given me a chance. Maybe because he saw potential in me, or determination. I didn’t think shaking his hand and thanking him for his service after spotting the Navy tattoo on his muscled arm had hurt anything, though.
In the movies, people who do what I do are called bounty hunters, but I’ve learned that title pretty much went out with the Old West. Whatever we’re called, the concept is the same: we find people in exchange for money. The way our system works is this: when people are arrested, they may or may not be eligible for bail. Those who are may or may not be able to afford bail. Those who can’t may or may not go to a bondsman. If they do, they put something up as collateral, and the bondsman pays the money to the court for that person to be released.
An agreement then exists between the court, the bondee, and the bondsman that the bondee will appear in court when he is scheduled to. If that person fails to appear in court, a warrant is issued for his arrest and his bail is forfeited. If that person is found and returned to jail within a certain amount of time, the bondsman is returned his money. If not, he loses it. This is where bond enforcement agents (me) come in. We track down the people who fail to appear in court, or who are FTA. We arrest them and take them back to jail. For doing this, we’re paid a percentage of the bond, and, like I mentioned, this can be a pretty good payday.
I parked out front and used the front door. Inside, the lobby looks a lot like the one in my dentist’s office. To the left of the door, a receptionist sits behind a counter with a headset and a computer. She’s responsible for handling all phone calls and scheduling all appointments for the office. Off the lobby, back and to the right, there is a hall that leads to the offices and desks where Sideline staff work. At the back of the lobby, there is an office with a large window beside the door: Dean Amerson’s office. Meeker looks like a retired cop. Sands looks like a retired investment banker. And Dean Amerson looks like what he is: ex-military.
Amerson is between thirty-five and forty but looks thirty, and he’s built like a linebacker. Except Amerson doesn’t look like he’ll sack you before you throw the ball and score a touchdown for your team. He looks like he’ll rappel from a helicopter and hack his way through the jungle using only a pocket knife and compass to find you, kill you, then get back out again, and do it all without ever being noticed or leaving a trace. No one really knows what Amerson did in the military, but everyone has their own theory, their own stories. All that’s known for sure is that Amerson was a Navy S.E.A.L. and attained a very high rank after serving only fifteen years.
There are lots of civilian jobs for ex-military guys through private security companies, especially the guys who did the things no one knows or talks about. I suspected Amerson had been one of the guys who did those jobs no one talks about. Sands mentioned to me once it had been a hell of a deal that had made Amerson agree to work for Sideline and pass up a very high-paying job doing some private security business in the Middle East. For the last couple years, he’s been managing the Sideline Investigations and Bail Bonds office. Well, mostly managing. Sometimes he goes out and gets people himself. I don’t know what the office was like before Amerson got there, but I know what it’s like now, and I think it’s damn lucky to have him.
I smiled at the receptionist, who was on the phone, as I passed. There were always people in the lobby, and today there were three. Fort Collins is something between country-bumpkin and big-city metropolitan, an eclectic mixture of many cultures and histories, but it has its fair share of crime and problems. And, as the population continues to grow, so does the demand for the services provided by Sideline Investigations and Bail Bonds. Amerson’s door was closed, but the blinds on his window were open; he saw me and waved me in.
“I thought you might drop by, Grey,” he said as he hung up the phone. He wore tan cargo pants and a blue short-sleeved cargo shirt (his typical uniform). “I heard about your early morning play date.”
Amerson had contacts everywhere. It wasn’t hard to believe he’d already heard about the Dennison debacle.
I sat down as my eyes rolled. “That woman was a magician short of a birthday party before I ever got there. Probably she never should have been living at home in the first place.”
“Dennison is swearing revenge. Says you beat up his mother.”
I pointed to my neck. “If I had, it would have been justified. She attacked me. And she tried to shoot me. Anyway, what’s Dennison gonna do? Chuck beer cans at me? Piss on my tires?”
Amerson looked at me for a beat then shook his head. “The weirdest shit happens to you, Grey.”
I sighed. “I know.”
I set two pieces of paper between us. They were body receipts. When a bond enforcement agent delivers a bondee back to jail, the agent is issued a body receipt from the jail to bring back to the bondsman for payment. It’s basically proof we’ve done our job and guarantees we get paid.
He picked up the papers then held one up to me. “This one didn’t take long.”
I shrugged. “She was seventy. They aren’t hard to catch.”
Senior citizens aren’t big runners. I’m not a big runner. I’d track seniors all day long.
He shook his head as he turned to his computer. “You’d think someone her age would know better.”
“It’s job security, right?”
“Sometimes I wonder what this country is coming to.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. It scares me too. I thought that if I’d given fifteen years of my life to defending the country, it would do more than scare me; it would piss me off. Amerson didn’t seem angry, though. I guess he—and others who served in the military—saw a lot of stuff that would piss them off if they let it.
“How’s the arm?” he asked, glancing at me as he tapped out several keystrokes. “Haven’t seen much of that sling lately.”
“Better. And I hate the sling.”
“You’ve brought in quite a few captures, some at decent bounties. I’m sure you can afford to take a couple weeks off.”
“Geez, Amerson, you sound like Ellmann. I don’t need time off. I’m fine.”
I was pretty sure I’d get into trouble if I was just supposed to be sitting around at home doing nothing. There was a better than fair chance I’d get into plenty of trouble anyway, but the other way almost guaranteed it.
He clicked the mouse a couple times then sat back.
“Okay, forget I mentioned it. I sent your payment.”
“Thanks. What else do you have?”
He swung his chair to his left and reached for a stack of files in a tray on the edge of the desk. He fingered through the stack, calling out names, charges, and recovery fees as he came to each one. When I was interested, he handed me a file, and I glanced through it. Most were low-level bonds. The high-dollar cases went directly to the full-time recovery agents or guys with more experience. Those on Amerson’s desk were the ones with smaller recovery fees (or bounties) that had come in within the last twenty-four hours that he would try to assign to agents like me, who took cases as they came. I handed the files back to him, keeping two.
Martin Fink, forty-seven, with a history of DUIs, had been arrested for driving under the influence and without a license. He’d been released on a ten-thousand-dollar bond and missed his court date two days before. That he’d been eligible for bail at all was a real testament to the fact that our jails and prisons are overcrowded. He’d managed to hold a steady job and had a local address. Chances were good he wouldn’t be hard to bring in.
The second was Cory Dix, twenty, enrolled in Colorado State University. Dix had been arrested by CSU police after streaking naked through a campus gathering by a Christian organization. After making a nuisance of himself there, he came across a pizza delivery car sitting outside the dorms. The delivery guy was inside, so Dix drove the car back to his house, one block from campus. He and his roommates had eaten most the pizza they’d found in the car by the time the police caught up with him. There was a list of charges, and the bond was for five thousand dollars. There was no job listed, and his parents, who lived in Washington, put up the collateral, but he was a full-time student. I thought I could track him down.
“I’ll take these two.”
“I need someone to take this one,” he said, pulling the file off the top of the stack before replacing it in the basket. “Danielle Dillon, felony assault and property destruction, fifteen-thousand-dollar bond. We forfeit in seventy-two hours.”
I took the file from him and opened it.
“That’s not much time,” I said. “Why hasn’t she been found yet?”
“The information listed for her is either out of date or false. The address we have doesn’t match the address on file with the DMV or any address known by the police. I’ve had guys out to all of them and they’ve turned up bupkis. Every phone number I’ve been able to track down for her is disconnected. None of her friends or family is being very helpful. You sort of have a gift for running into people. Maybe you could run into her.”
“Who secured the bond?” I asked, thumbing through the file.
“Her grandmother. Put up her house.”
I looked up. “Grandma is about to lose her house and won’t say where the girl is?”
Amerson shook his head. “No. I talked to her myself, but I don’t think she knows where the girl is.”
I closed the file and set it on the other two. “All right, I’ll look into it. But you better have someone else available, because if I can’t find anything, I don’t want to be responsible for losing Sideline fifteen grand or an old woman her house.”
Amerson turned to the computer and began printing the authorization-to-capture paperwork.
“No pressure or anything, Grey, but if you can’t find her, no one can.”

“How have things been since we last talked?”
“Fine. No change, really.”
My therapist and I go way back. The court had ordered therapy for me thirteen years before when I’d shot and killed my father after discovering him attempting to molest my younger brother. He’d also tried to kill me, which was why the police never put me in jail—or juvenile detention, as it would have been.
For a shrink, Dr. Cheryl Hobbs isn’t so bad. Now forty-five (or thereabouts), Hobbs is a decent woman who tells it to me straight, and even if she can be a moron sometimes, she isn’t totally stupid. She’s about five-five when she stands and is still rail-thin, though she has gained a couple dress sizes in the years I’ve known her. She usually wears her shoulder-length light brown hair layered and down, though today it was up. She has brown eyes and wears square-framed glasses. She was dressed in a brown knee-length pencil skirt and brown striped button-down blouse.
But no shrink is without his or her own issues, and I’ve long suspected for Hobbs it’s a milder form of OCD. She’s overly particular and detail oriented. A perfectionist, but to an extreme. This hasn’t necessarily affected my therapy, but it is evident. Her hair, done up in a French twist, was absolutely perfect, straight and even, not a single hair out of place. Her glasses never had streaks or smudges, her clothes were never wrinkled or misaligned, her desk and office were tidy to the point of Spartan. She had a thing about coasters, and everything was at right angles. Also, she liked to conduct business in a particular sequence. At various points in our history, I’d made attempts to alter that sequence, and the results had not been favorable.
She sat now in the same chair she always occupied while I was in the one she always indicated for me. A yellow legal pad was propped on her crossed legs, and she was reviewing notes from past sessions while occasionally making new notes. I was back in the sling, less out of compliance and more out of function. I’d filled an ice pack before leaving the bonds office, and the sling held it in place perfectly.
“What about the nightmares?”
“I’ve still got them,” I said, wondering if she thought they’d simply go away.
“Are you still seeing the same thing? Are you seeing your father?”
With all the attempts on my life had come incidents of self-defense. Not unexpectedly, I had some post-traumatic stress stuff after killing my father. Not surprisingly, defending my life again several weeks ago had triggered it all. Back on the surface, I was experiencing horrible nightmares.
Scenes from the recent shootings and the car chase would replay themselves in my head. Somehow my mind had inserted the night my father died into some of those dreams, and I’d see him coming after me in different settings, in place of or in conjunction with my latest would-be killers. I hadn’t really had a good night’s sleep since.
“I know you’d been sleeping alone last time we spoke. Is that still the case?”
“Yes, for the most part.”
Because of the dreams, I sometimes woke up screaming or crying or both. Not only did I find this embarrassing and unsettling, but it kept Ellmann from sleeping. I was sure he was sincere when he said he wanted to be there for me, but I thought it unfair for us both to be awake and miserable all night. Plus, we’ve only been dating a short time. I thought it was probably too soon for us to spend every night together.
“How does Alex feel about this?”
I shrugged my good shoulder. “I don’t know. I think he gets frustrated with me sometimes, but he understands. I also think a part of him is relieved, because he really wasn’t getting any sleep. He needs to be rested to do his job.”
“Do you feel like you’re letting him in?”
I shrugged again.
“Yes. Why? Is that not coming across?”
“Has Alex said anything about you being distant, or wanting you to open up to him?”
“Sometimes he says I don’t lean on him, but I don’t think that’s the same as keeping him out. I mean, the only person who knows more about me than Ellmann is Amy. That’s saying something.”
Amy Wells has been my best friend since before our first birthdays, and we literally grew up together; we are more like sisters. We know everything about each other—all the dark and dirty secrets, of which there are plenty. Amy is the only person on the planet who knows every detail of my life, every skeleton, every sin, and loves me anyway.
“Ever since you first mentioned Alex, you’ve called him by his last name. Why do you do that? Is that an attempt to distance yourself from him?”
This was one of those times when I think Hobbs is a moron. Freaking therapists, man, they’re always trying to read into every tiny detail of everything. Sometimes a name is just a name; sometimes it doesn’t mean anything.
“No. I call him by his last name because everyone else calls him by his last name. A lot of cops are called by their last names. When I met him, it was in a professional capacity, so I called him by his last name. I guess it stuck.”
“You have a history of keeping people at arm’s length,” she persisted. “You don’t let people in. Why would Alex be any different?”
I bit back a sigh and turned to stare out the window. Hobbs’s office is on the first floor in an old Victorian-style house off Remington and Elizabeth, a block from campus. Many of the houses in town had been converted to similar office spaces. In this neighborhood, being so close to campus, most houses are occupied by college students. Hobbs’s office window overlooks Remington and the side yard. I watched cars slow for the intersection and bikers and pedestrians flow by in streams.
Hobbs’s office wasn’t the only one in the house. There was a photographer and another therapist on the first floor, a massage therapist and an acupuncturist on the second. There had been three accountants sharing the bulk of the space on the first floor until last May. They’d made it through tax season then decided to expand. They moved to a bigger space and hired another accountant. A week later, a medical marijuana dispensary moved in. Everyone in the entire house had made a fuss, but the landlord had rented it anyway. Now there was a lot of activity on the property, lots of people stopping by to legally buy dope.
I was thinking about Hobbs’s question and how to answer it, trying to decide what the answer was, when I saw a familiar face through the window. I sat forward and stared closely for a moment, then I bent and pulled my bag onto my lap, retrieving the files I’d gotten from Amerson. I flipped open the one marked “Martin Fink” and looked at the photo stapled to the inside.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I muttered under my breath as I confirmed the man on the street was in fact Fink.
“Excuse me?” Hobbs said. “What’s going on?”
I glanced at my watch as I stuffed the files back into my bag. My session wasn’t even halfway over. Through the window, I watched Fink round the corner to the front of the house. I pulled the handcuffs out of my bag before dropping it back to the floor.
“Uh, I need to use the bathroom,” I said, jumping up. “I’ll be right back.”
I left the office then walked the hall to the front, where I saw several people passing in and out of the door, Fink among them. The small entry area and front room, which had been converted to a waiting area, was empty aside from those walking to and from the dispensary. Fink was at least fifteen years older than anyone else either coming or going. His brown hair was thinning badly on top, and his midline was expanding, drooping over his belt. He was wearing ill-fitting stonewash jeans, loafers with tassels, and a white, short-sleeved, button-down shirt with pink stripes.
“Oh, my gosh,” I said, as if surprised to see him, and walked toward him. “Are you Martin Fink?”
“Yes,” he said, slowing as he looked at me, obviously confused. “Do I know you?”
I stopped a couple feet in front of him.
“Not yet. I’m Zoe Grey. I work for your bond company. You missed your court date. I need to take you in to reschedule.”
He looked at me, considering the sling, then laughed. I should have left it in Hobbs’s office.
“What, you’re going to arrest me? You’re going to arrest me?”
“I am,” I said, holding the handcuffs in my right hand for him to see. “Please turn around.”
“No,” he said, like a spoiled kid. “I won’t.”
“Please, sir, it’s better if you cooperate.”
“What are you going to do, make me? You’re a girl, and you’re crippled, too. Go away. Quit bothering me.”
He turned. Taking the cuffs in my crippled left hand, I reached for him with my right, placing my hand on his shoulder. He reacted immediately. Grunting, he spun around, his right hand in a fist, swinging toward my face. I deflected the blow, stepping out of the way. His momentum carried him forward when he missed his target, and he stumbled. When he righted himself, he charged me, both hands outstretched toward me.
I grabbed two of his fingers and pushed them back in one of my most trusted moves. He dropped to his knees, crying out in pain. Maintaining the grip, I stepped around him, bringing his hand behind his back. With my left hand, I reached up and pulled the sling over my head, allowing me full use of my crippled arm. I secured the cuffs around both of his wrists then jerked him up. I held him by the back of the shirt as I marched him back down the hall to Hobbs’s office. This would seriously alter Hobbs’s routine. I hoped she could roll with it.
She turned toward the door when it opened, her eyes wide when she saw Fink. I steered Fink in and sat him down on the sofa then shut the door. I replaced the sling and adjusted the ice as I went back to my chair and sat down. Hobbs looked at me.
“What’s going on?”
Fink launched into a very loud rant about his rights and injustice and a bunch of other crap. I cut him off then told him to keep quiet. He didn’t seem as interested in challenging me now as he had been in the waiting room, even if I was just a crippled girl.
“He’s an FTA,” I explained. “I’ll take him in when our session’s over.”
Fink recovered before she did.
“What?” he said with a groan. “You want me t—no. No, no, no. Just take me in! Please!”
I’ll admit, this was the first time anyone had begged me to take them to jail.

“Quiet, Fink. I have to pay full price if I leave early. You’re not worth that much money."

Read chapter three.
Or get caught up. Read chapter one.

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