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Friday, 8:00 AM Greyhound Bus Terminal, Atlanta, Georgia
Just as I was about to cuff Misty Wetherington for ditching DUI court for the fifth time so she could hit the slots at Harrah's casino with her book club buddies, my phone buzzed. I looked down. It was my calendar app, reminding me that I had to be at Bella's school in ninety minutes.
"Crap, I forgot." I sighed.
My daughter, Bella, had asked me if I could join her at Sugar Hill Elementary School today for Doughnuts for Dads. It was a PTA event to celebrate fathers, more like a back-door way to get men into the classroom without them feeling awkward. However, Bella's best friend Lacy's mom came to the last one and, according to my friends at the Sugar Hill Church Ladies' Brunch, no one seemed to mind.
And ... today was Bella's seventh birthday. I had to be there.
However, I was a little under an hour's drive from the school. If I could punch it without getting a speeding ticket, I would make it in time. The only problem was I didn't know what to do with Misty.
With the exhaustively long lines at the City of Atlanta's traffic court, who knew how long it would take to process her? I wondered as I looked down at her bleached, moppy hair.
She was still on the parking lot ground, face to the gritty, piss-stained pavement while I straddled her back. My handcuffs dangled in my hands.
"Misty, you have been caught on a particularly good day for you...."
I placed the cuffs on the ground near her face so she could see them. I waited until she turned her head in the cuffs' direction before I continued.
"Look. It's my daughter's birthday and I need to be with her. We both know that what I'll make for hauling your butt to jail is about the cost of two tickets to the Atlanta Aquarium, the Coke Museum, and one night's stay in the Georgian Terrace. So here's my proposition. Today, I let you go. I'll have Big Tiger finesse the city into giving you another FTA hearing, but on one condition: You fork over the money you were about to spend at the casino. I can surprise my girl with a kid-cation in Atlanta. What do you say?"
Big Tiger was the bail bondsman who kept me under contract. He introduced me to bail recovery and taught me the tools of the trade.
"And if I don't?" She grunted.
"How confident are you that the City of Atlanta will grant you a new FTA hearing after five no-shows without some help from Big Tiger? How confident are you that some other bail recovery agent isn't lurking behind any of these cars out here, waiting for the chance to take you from me? And uh ... where are your gambling buddies when you need them?"
Her gaze searched the parking lot. "Did they leave?"
"Darling, they are the ones who turned you in. Now those are friends to keep. I can be your friend, too. Just say the magic words."
She sighed. "The money's in my front pocket, Angel."
"Bingo." I hopped off her and flipped her over.
She reluctantly pulled the money out. I stretched out my palm until she placed the money into my hand. Misty was carrying five hundred dollars.
I placed the money in my back pocket and smiled. "Happy Birthday to Bella."
Friday, 10:10 AM Sugar Hill Elementary School, Sugar Hill, Georgia
Sugar Hill Elementary School was unusually packed when I pulled into the parking lot. "I can't believe this many men are here to eat doughnuts," I said to myself as I sped up the boardwalk to the school's entrance.
When I walked into the foyer, Dale Baker, the president of our homeowners' association, waved me down and mouthed good morning. I waved back and continued toward the front office. Inside, I spotted the parents' sign-in sheet, pulled a pen out of the flowerpot pen holder, and signed my name.
The front office manager, whose name I could never remember because the constant scowl on her face reminded me of the taste of a bitter honeysuckle, pulled her glasses down her nose and shook her head at me. I called her Mrs. Bitter behind her back.
She pointed to the sign-in sheet. Her aged fingers seemed swollen, even for someone her age. "Uh ... Miss Crawford, you don't sign in here. This is for Doughnuts for Dads."
"I know that," I said with a don't-start-with-me smile.
"Honey, I know you're rough-and-tumble. I see you on the news, bursting down doors and pushing men around. But here at Sugar Hill we don't need that kind of confusion for Isabella."
"No offense, but I know what I'm doing." I brushed her off.
This wasn't the first time an older Southern woman had tried to tell me how to parent. It didn't offend me, but today I didn't have the time to extend her more kindness than the fake smile I'd already offered. Doughnuts for Dads lasted thirty minutes. Ten minutes had already passed and Bella was still waiting in her homeroom class to be called.
"Can you please call Isabella Crawford up to the front before it's too late?" I checked my watch and turned away from her.
She huffed. "I'm sure you think you know what you're doing, but have you thought of how what you do affects Isabella?"
And she didn't shut up. While I watched her mouth moving, my fingers curled into a ball. This was the first time since I became a single mom that I felt inadequate. It angered me. Thus, my resolve to be good faded the more she preached. Mrs. Bitter was about five seconds from getting her feelings hurt. I counted to ten real slow and hoped for some miracle to stop me from knocking the taste out of her big, meddling mouth.
"Mrs. Montgomery, I'm afraid this young lady has plans for Ms. Crawford." Justus Morgan's voice made me tremble.
I turned around. He stood in the front office threshold and looked down. Bella was in front of him. Her smile was as wide as the summer days were long. The shame I'd just felt faded away with every second of her presence in the room.
"Surprise, sweetie!" I knelt down and hugged Bella.
She broke free and grabbed my hand. "Come on, Mommy. Mr. Baker has saved us the biggest sprinkled cupcakes in the entire world because it's my birthday. "
I mouthed thank you to Justus as Bella whisked me away from Mrs. Bitter. When I glanced back, I noticed her head had dropped. Justus was saying something to her that made her cower.
After Doughnuts for Dads, I thanked Dale and the rest of the PTA Room Moms' Committee for putting this together and walked toward Justus. He had just completed a conversation with Principal Boyd.
He must have seen me coming, because his face lit up bright. It made me blush.
Justus was my pastor and once my secret crush. Now I avoided him when I could, because apparently he had a thing for me, too, which was even scarier than pining for him from afar. The last man I loved died in my arms and left me his daughter to parent on my own. I was still gun shy of good love and terrified of Justus Too Hot to Be Holy Morgan.
"Thank you," I spat out before I lost the nerve.
"For what?" He grinned. His deep right dimple humbled me even more.
"For coming to my rescue with Mrs. Bi—Mrs. Montgomery. "
He looked down and chuckled. "I finally get to be the hero."
"Look around this place, Justus. You're always the hero."
He didn't respond, just looked at me in that way that made me feverish around my lips.
"What are you doing here? Trish's boys needed a stand-in?"
Justus's sister, Trish, was a military wife. Her husband, Mike, was deployed overseas more than he stayed stateside. Yet they managed to have three children despite his long stays away. They had a teenage drama queen daughter named Kelly and twin sons who were about Bella's age. But rumor around Sugar Hill Community Church was that Trish had a new bun in the oven.
"No, actually Mike was here. He couldn't stay long. You probably missed him when you were chatting with Mrs. Montgomery. "
"Good news for them." I smiled.
He stopped smiling. "He's being called to Afghanistan."
"Wow indeed." He nodded. "I'm here because I came to invite the dads to the North Georgia Bike and Car show."
"Bike and Car show?" I stepped back in surprise. "You bike?"
"Among other things. Since you keep giving me rain checks on our date, you miss out on these cool things about me."
Our date? I folded my arms over my chest. Are we still on that subject?
The last time Justus and I were together was at my brother-in-law Devon's homegoing celebration. I had admitted that I had considered a relationship with him, but the reality of our situations didn't seem like they would ever mesh. He's a minister and I'm ... well, I need a lot of prayer. He had brushed off my excuse as if I'd never said it, while I'd dodged him every chance I'd gotten since then.
Today, after what he'd done for me, I owed him at least a straight answer.
"Wait before you come up with another weak excuse why you can't date me. Let me stop you by telling you that I'm letting you off the hook. You don't owe me anything," he said.
"Good, because I don't want to date you...."
The fire in his cheeks had gone out. "I understand."
I walked closer toward him and stood short of his boots. "I want to know if we could have a future together."
His eyes blazed. His smile outdid Bella's. "What if I already know the answer is yes?"
"Then I'm giving you the chance to prove it."
"No time like the present," he said. "Tonight we begin."
"You make that sound really, really, really hot, but I don't have a babysitter for tonight. It's Bella's birthday. Besides, Whitney has plans. Her bestie is getting married and the bridal team is getting together to powwow about the wedding plans. Ava is taking the kids to spend time with Devon's family, and Momma ... hopefully she's on her honeymoon with my quiet-is-as-kept, new stepdaddy."
"You want to know if I can fit into your world. That world includes Bella and her perfect birthday. Let's do her up big. Let's take her to the circus. They're in town."
"Last-minute tickets for something like that is killer," I said while those five hundred dollars burned holes in my pocket.
"My treat," he said.
"That's sweet, but a night at the circus with a kindergartner doesn't sound like hot date material."
"Who says I want a hot date?" He touched my hand. "I want you. That's all. Any time with you is blue hot in my book."
There was something about his hand squeeze, the sincere look in his eyes, and his way with words that made me wish very hard that was true.
"Okay, then. Tonight we begin," I said, but it didn't sound as cute as when Justus had said it.CHAPTER 2
Friday, 11:30 AM Gwinnett County Detention Center (GCDC), Lawrenceville, Georgia
My flexible work schedule was the main reason I became a bail recovery agent. My former job at the Atlanta Sentinel had so much structure, so many rules, and that feeling of an invisible thumb on your back that it was driving me batty. But now I set my own hours. Now I was the boss. I slept in and hit the clubs at night. I could bop into Bella's school for Doughnuts for Dads, hop over to Big Tiger's to skim through his current jackets, and then take a quick run to the Decatur Hotel, the nickname for the Dekalb County jail.
Today, because it was my designated day to run Bella's car pool, I was on my way to GCDC. That jail was twenty minutes from Sugar Hill Elementary. So I had a solid ninety minutes to get in, get what I needed, and get out of there with time to spare.
I needed to check through the inmate list to see if one of my skips was already inside. Although both the national warrant and the prison system intranet service did decent jobs connecting charges, sometimes they missed a few. Especially if the prison was a private institution or the inmate had a common name like Miguel Lopez, Kim Li, Mike Jones, or my current skip's name, Cesar Cruz.
Cesar had an FTA jacket that was ten skips deep. At the bottom of the habitual bail-jumper's barrel was Big Tiger's $25,000 Fulton County, newly forfeited bail bond. If I found Mr. Cruz in less than 150 days, then I would take home five thousand dollars. That was my mortgage for almost six months.
Since Gwinnett County had a large immigrant population, this was the best place to start. I also had a snitch on the inside, Rosary DiChristina. Her ex-husband was related to Cesar. She needed a few dollars on her commissary. If she gave me a good lead, I would take care of her toiletries for a few months.
After I checked in as an inmate visitor, I took a seat in the lobby, waited for my last name to be called, and scanned the place for the familiars and the newbies. I could spot a newbie within seconds of them entering the jail: the dropped jaw, the turned-up nostrils from the part urine/part bleach/part stank stench, and the realization in their eyes that this nightmare actually existed. For the rest of us, the ones who've grown accustomed to the fluorescent lighting, beige cement walls, exposed pipe ceiling, and air so cold and stale your nose and fingers numb on impact, we know to wear our worst jeans and a bomber jacket.
I had spotted at least four newbies when my name was called.
"Hey, Angel." One of the women correctional officers on call today waved at me. She had a tiny crush on Tiger.
"Hey, girl. You got time after I come down? I need to check on some folk."
"It depends. I'm off the clock in forty."
I nodded as I passed by. "I'll see you before then."
"Who you come to see?" She reached for the sign-in clipboard. "Aw, lawd, not her. "
I stopped short of the elevators leading to Rosary's living pod, but didn't turn around. "What's wrong with Rosary?"
"Your girl has gotten into some more trouble. I can get her out of it, but she's not cooperating. Maybe you can talk some sense into her before it's too late."
I pursed my lips. I was confused. Rosary didn't seem like the bad-girl type. There must be more to this than she was telling me.
I pushed the elevator button. "She's a good girl. Don't worry. She'll listen to me."
"She better or she's going to catch a new case." The officer scoffed.
"A new case?!" I spun around and sighed. "What do you want me to do exactly?"
If you've been in one county jail's inmates' quarters, you've been to them all. They were quartered off in polygons with the officers' station planted smack-dab in the middle. This way, they could keep their eyes on the prisoners^ whose rooms resembled glassed-off pet rat cages. My best definition for county jail at GCDC was a cross between a science lab and a day care, except the baby rats wore blue jumpers.
Rosary entered the visitation chamber about two minutes after I arrived. We were separated by a scratched glass partition. Both our cubes had a phone nailed to the wall, a steel table attached to the glass, and a beige piper stack chair. The I-don't-know-what-it-is-but-it-burns-my-nose smell was the only odor in the room.
She sat down. Before she lifted her phone to her head, I knew what the officer meant. Rosary appeared groggy and listless. I crossed my arms over my chest and didn't pick up the phone receiver. What was the point, since my informant was drunk off buck?
Buck is the term for moonshine made from fermented fruit. Most prison inmates used bread, orange peels, and orange slices to concoct their brew. They would put that nasty mess in a plastic bag and let it sit for days until the bag popped. The pop indicated the alcohol was ready.
Therefore, fruit peels were forbidden inside, so Rosary was in trouble. If I didn't get her straight and find out who brought her the orange peels, she would have another charge tacked onto her current DWI charge.
I huffed. I didn't come here for this.
She tapped the window to get me to pick up my receiver so we could talk.
I snatched the phone off the wall and didn't put the receiver on my ear. You would be surprised what some of these visitors do to that thing.
I spoke into the receiver. "Looks like you began the party without me."
"No, just sleepy." Rosary lisped. Her tongue was heavy from drinking hooch. "They keep it so cold in here."
Excerpted from Someone Bad and Something Blue by MIRANDA PARKER. Copyright © 2014 Miranda Parker. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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