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Carjacked at gunpoint, a mobster shooting, and a dead body. What else could go wrong for Vinnie Esposito?
Telling Vinnie Esposito to stay out of trouble is like telling a wolf not to howl at the moon.
But you can’t blame Vinnie this time. She’s just trying to be a Good Samaritan. How is Vinnie supposed to know that the little old lady, stranded at the side of the road, is a carjacker? And when Vinnie helps her artist friend paint a mural in a big, fancy mansion—how is she supposed to know that the owner is the biggest, most notorious, mobster in the state? And she can’t help it when she finds a dead body at the art show.
And next thing you know her parents are fighting; and her boyfriend, hunky State Trooper Marcus Richmond, is mad at her; and her sexy, upstairs tenant, FBI agent Aaron Grant, is up to something.
And Vinnie has to make everything right.
The old woman leaned against the trunk of the dented, rattletrap car stopped dead, halfway into the low speed lane of the highway. One bony hand across her forehead, she shook her head back and forth in despair. At least, it looked like despair.
I swerved to miss the car and swung my own vehicle into the break down lane, shoved the shift lever into reverse and backed toward the woman. My heart pounded from the near accident, but the old girl was in need, and perhaps I could help. After all, it was winter and the wan sun offered little respite from the cold wind.
Drawn up beside the beastly wreck, I shifted into park, dialed the local police station on my cell phone and reported the accident. My Altima idled as I strode toward the jalopy whose driver had also seen better days. I stuffed my hands and cell phone into the pockets of my wool jacket.
The old woman glanced around before she hobbled forward. A worn, ragged coat hung off frail shoulders while her heavy boots flopped about on feet that shuffled a bit. Thin wisps of gray hair tossed about frantically in the wind. Boney, claw-like hands clutched a filthy crocheted handbag that resembled a shopping bag. A grimace covered the prune wrinkled face as she drew closer. Mean eyes glared, and I braced myself for a lecture on poor driving skills. It wouldn’t be the first time I had received one of those.
“You dang near kilt me, young woman.” she said in a near snarl.
“I wasn’t expecting a car to be in the lane when I crested the hill.” I answered in self defense. “I-I’m sorry.”
“It ain’t my fault the danged thing broke down, ya know.” She scratched her head with dirty fingernails. I stepped back in case there was a chance lice might jump from her to me. “The least ya can do for an old woman is to give her a ride, eh?” She stared at my car before she gave me the once over.
I caught the glitter in her eyes for just a second before she glanced away. Taken aback, I nodded and agreed to the ride. Snow White, the old witch, and the poisoned apple popped into my head. While it was only for a split second, the image left me on edge. With a mental head slap, I forced my mind back to the present situation.
Filled with trepidation, I asked, “Where were you going?”
“Just to Olneyville, do you know where that is?
She smirked and continued. “You can drop me near the triangle. What’s yer name, Missy?” she asked as she clopped toward the passenger side of the Altima.
“Lavinia Esposito, but my friends call me Vinnie,” I mumbled wondering if the car would need fumigating after she got out. I hustled along, clicking the door lock open from the key fob.
Within seconds we were headed toward an area of Providence that had once been a hub of activity. Now it was simply run down and filled with shady characters. Abandoned stores were boarded up, night clubs stayed open until the late morning hours creating havoc, and tenement houses stood shabby and forlorn. This was the neighborhood of hookers, drug dealers, drunks and punks. Even the cops disliked being dispatched to calls in this area.
Nestled deep into the seat, the old woman rubbed her cold hands together. I glanced around the drab winter streets. The over-sized handbag rested on her lap. She started to rummage through it. With a deft motion and a sound of satisfaction, the hag pulled out a snub nosed .38 Special, Smith & Wesson. The gun was pointed at me. My stomach dropped into my feet as my heart jumped into my mouth. Christ!
“Just get off the road, Lavinie.”
“It’s Lavinia,” I murmured, glanced at her and struggled to stay calm. “This isn’t necessary, I'll have your car towed. I didn’t mean to nearly hit you, honest,” I stammered while my sweaty hands gripped the steering wheel.
“Don’t be stupid, just do what I say and you’ll be fine.” The small, yet deadly handgun waggled. Her bony finger rested on the trigger. I couldn’t tell if the safety catch was on or not.
Dry mouthed and scared witless, I steered the car off the main drag into a low-life neighborhood. In a split second I wondered if I was worse off with this nightmare of a woman than on these mean streets. Either way, my outlook sucked. If I didn’t do as she said, she might shoot me. If I did what she said, I might get mugged. Rather than be shot, since I have a serious aversion to blood, I figured I had a better chance on foot in daylight, even in this location. With my height just short of the six foot mark, and the ability to handle myself in a life threatening situation, I figured I could manage.
The car slid to a halt at the curb and the old harridan motioned for me to get out with orders to stand in the center of the street. I'd grabbed my Louis Vuitton handbag when filthy gnarled fingers whipped it from my grasp.
“You won’t need this, but I will, Lavinie.” She cackled, stepped from the car and came around to slide into the driver’s seat, holding the gun on me all the while. She seemed adept at this hold up stuff, leaving me to wonder how many times she’d done it before.
I glanced around the windswept street in case anyone saw her and the gun. I was certain nobody would call the cops, but they'd close the drapes instead. This was a place where people refrained from involvement in things that didn’t concern them. Stepping back, I watched my car slide away and screech around the corner, out of sight.
I reached into my pocket for my cellphone. After I dialed the Providence Police Department to relay my story, the dispatcher asked if I was injured. I said only my pride had suffered from the incident. A snicker crossed the line. She said she'd put the call out. I asked if she would dispatch Officer Banger, since I knew this was Freedom’s patrol district and that she was on duty. Dispatch said she’d relay the message.
I figured I was in for some ribbing over the robbery. Since I teach criminal justice, date a Rhode Island State Trooper, and have an undercover FBI agent as a tenant, the ribbing was certain. There might be some concern for my welfare mixed in for good measure, though. So, not all was lost.
Freedom Banger was a tough cop, but never stupid. She would always recommend stepping away from a gun. This thought offered comfort while I awaited her arrival. As a Providence cop who had been on the force for nearly eighteen years, Freedom had a quirky personality. She saw humor in things most people didn’t, while always suspicious of everyone and everything. If Freedom liked you, and thought you needed a hand, she would move heaven and earth to help you. On the flip side, it was just plain stupid to get on her last nerve.
Impatient, I paced the sidewalk, anxious to leave the area. A smart-looking black BMW rounded the corner and slowed to a stop next to me. Dark tinted windows made it impossible to see inside. With my luck it was the old broad and she had robbed someone else, but just came back to shoot me for kicks.
Mid-step, I paused on the sidewalk staring at the car. The window slid down, smooth and silent. A black dude, with an earring the size of the Hope diamond suspended off his earlobe, stared back from behind an expensive pair of sunglasses. His hair was cropped with a “Z” cut to the scalp on the side above his ear. A backwards baseball cap balanced haphazardly atop his head. He grinned at me. I noticed his front teeth had a gap and were rimmed with gold. Now that’s attractive, I thought with disgust.
“Yo sistah, wha’s up?” he drawled like the homey he was. A homey with a car, a very nice car. I didn’t have a car.
“Nothing’s up,” I answered with a quick glance around. Where was Freedom, and what was taking her so damned long?
“You are one fine bitch. Wanna take a ride and join me for a little action?” He gave me a lewd smile, lifted the sun glasses off his face and wiggled his eyebrows at me.
“Do I look like some hoochie-momma to you?” I asked with a hand on my hip, temper flaring.
“Well, who the hell else would be walkin’ these cold mean streets at this time of day in those fine clothes?”
“Move along, I’m not interested in doing anything with you.”
“You sure?” He grinned. “I know how to satisfy a woman such as yoself.”
“I said, I’m not interested.” I yelled it rather than said it.
I took a step toward the car and raised my high heeled booted foot to kick the door when the car raced away. My temper was out of control, and so was I. A hand came out of the car window and the homey flipped me off. Could my day get any better?
Within minutes I heard the siren and watched Freedom’s cruiser slide to a halt at the curb. Her grin held a smart-ass curve to it. It was then I realized I would never live this event down. I cringe a lot when that happens. The story would make the rounds of the police department. I would have to listen to snide remarks from cops and students alike for the next however long.
That’s what happens with a job like mine. By teaching Criminal Justice at a local university to cops, or Five-O’s as they're called, who mix it up with my other students that tend toward law students and security personnel, I witness a lot of human interaction which borders on the ridiculous. The security people take an immense amount of insults from the cops. They are called names like Flashlight Cops, Two-Point-Fives, or Wanna-Be’s. I know, it’s not fair. I often feel like I’m in a room of kindergarten kids, ones with deadly weapons and gigantic egos. One thing is for sure, my life is never, ever mundane and the morning’s events proved that fact.
“What the hell happened, Vin?” Freedom smirked as she got out of the car. “Are you all right?”
I glared down at her for a moment. I tower over Free who stands around five foot five. Her rich brown hair was tied back at the nape of her neck, and she held herself in a tough guy stance, hands resting on the fully loaded sixty pound police utility belt around her waist. A grin hovered at the corners of her mouth as brown eyes twinkled.
“Some old broad had broken down in the low speed lane of the highway. I stopped to help and gave her a lift. The bitch pulled a .38 out of her bag, offered to shoot me and stole my freakin’ car.” My hands clenched, I paced back and forth as I ranted. “If that wasn’t bad enough, she stole the freakin’ Louis Vuitton handbag that I just got.” I left out the homey pick-up attempt. I had enough to live down, thank you.
Freedom burst into laughter, patted me on the back in an assuring manner and motioned for me to get in the car. She climbed into the drivers’ seat, mumbling into the radio attached to her shoulder. We swung through empty streets onto the highway. I directed her to the place where the car had been, but it was gone. I glanced around, dialed the cops to ask if the car had been towed and was told it hadn’t been.
“You were set up by an old broad,” Free said, overcome by laughter.
“Very funny, Free, very funny.”
Cops have an odd sense of humor. I didn’t find anything humorous in the situation at hand. However, it had happened to me which made the issue up front and personal.
Free cast a sideways glance at me and said, “I’ll take you to the district station and make a report. You know the drill, right?”
“Yeah, I know the drill.” I stamped my foot on the floor and swore some more.
“Think of it this way, Vin, you’re still alive, right?” Her serious brown eyes turned toward me.
With a grudging nod, I stared out the window as we drove through dreary winter neighborhoods.
The hole in the wall district police station was set up for community policing. The cops kept the doors locked for fear of being shot and didn’t answer when someone came to make a complaint. So much for community policing. The Police Chief figured if community stations were located within the nine districts of the city, it would promote feelings of good will between the officers and neighborhood residents. I smirked at the thought, though many residents might consider it a safety factor.
We went into the freshly painted concrete block building. One wall held a mural of a police car. The department logo was painted on the front of the counter. I peered at the artist’s signature and realized my buddy, Lanky Larry, had done the work.
Round as a soup bowl and bald as a melon, Lanky Larry was gay, short in stature, big of heart, and sweetly natured. He painted murals, and faux finished walls and furniture in homes of the most elite in Rhode Island. He was also a good friend who had given me a hand on more than one occasion.
“You know this guy?” Free asked with a glance at me over her shoulder. Beckoning me to follow her with a crook of her finger, we strode through the room and down a corridor. The next small room held two computers, a fax machine and a printer.
“Yeah, he’s a friend of mine, and an awesome artist, too,” I answered with a grin.
“He slapped that mural on the wall like it was nothing. It blew me away,” she said and leaned away from the desk that held a computer. “I can’t even draw stick people.”
With a smile, I took the seat opposite her in the only other chair within the closet-like room. My gaze wandered the walls while we waited for the computer program to upload the report page. Gang insignia posters covered one wall. Photos of scumbags sent to federal prisons across the country covered another. I glanced at the map of the district and wondered what all the numbers meant, but didn’t ask.
Freedom asked questions. I gave her answers to the best of my recollection. I hadn’t paid a whole lot of attention to the wreck of a car, but the woman’s appearance lay emblazoned in my memory. We hadn’t gotten far when the radio attached to Free’s shoulder started to crackle. She was told to report to some incident or other.
In a flash she was out of the chair. I was instructed to wait until she got back. Where the hell was I supposed to go with no car? Free flung the front door key at me along with some cash and said I should get coffee from the bakery across the street. I nodded as she hurried out the door. Siren blaring and lights flashing, Freedom Banger headed toward the call at warp speed.
Alone in close quarters for a few minutes, I decided coffee was a good idea while I waited at the unoccupied front desk. Crossing the street, I sauntered into the sweet smelling bakery. Scents laden with sugar assailed my nostrils. I stepped to the counter and ordered a regular coffee. While the young girl poured the brew into a paper cup, I considered the glass cases filled with confections. There were too many choices, so I settled for a sprinkle covered donut. Within seconds I left the shop and headed back to the community police station.