Tuesday, December 18, 2012

First Chapter of Jules, the Bounty Hunter

Here's the opening chapter to my young adult novel, Jules, the Bounty Hunter!!

Chapter One

There’s nothing that kills the epic buzz of tracking a bail jumper quite like having to pee. It always seems like Mother Nature wanted to call at the most inopportune moments. Like when you’re in the back of an SUV going a hundred miles an hour down the interstate or when you’re hiding in some overgrown brush off the beaten path. But even if you were somewhere close to running water or flushing toilets, it wouldn’t really matter. Since most jumpers were male, you could pretty much count on not busting them in the ladies room.
Right now was a perfect example of the “to pee or not to pee” dilemma. Stationed at my post near the mall’s food court, I appeared your average teenage girl. I sent a flurry of texts to a faux friend while slurping on a strawberry Brain Freeze from the Tastee Shack. But every sip sent me into the shifting pee dance.
            I tried shutting the thought from my mind. Instead, I focused on envisioning the mug shot my dad had shown me earlier in the day. An image formed in my mind as plain as if I were seeing the suspect in front of me—brown hair, hazel eyes, slight build, faint scar over the right eye. Having a photographic memory came in really handy in my—well my dad’s line of work.
I know it’s not unusual for kids to work in the family business or to follow in their parents’ footsteps when it comes to career choices. But you see, my dad doesn’t have your typical 9-5 office job. As a Bail Enforcement Officer aka Bounty Hunter, you could say his hours were more 24-7. Jumpers, those charged with crimes who don’t show up for their court dates, don’t really operate on a schedule. Sucky hours and crazy working conditions aside, there was nothing more exhilarating than taking out the bad guy and keeping the wheels of justice running smoothly.
Only a few hours earlier, we had stood in our office, Lonestar Bail Bonds, surveying the white board that covered one entire wall. Mug shots littered the board along with scribbled out jumper stats. My dark haired, dark eyed twin brothers, Remington, or Remy as we called him, and Colt, stood on either side of me.
Dad, who was way more suave and sophisticated like James Bond than the rough around the edges, mullet sporting Dog the Bounty Hunter, had motioned to a picture in the middle of the board and then drew in a deep breath. “Today we’re going after Randy Oakley. He’s got two prior arrests for identity theft. He failed to make two court appointments this month, and he’s got a $40,000 bond.”
Since I had just turned sixteen a few months ago and Colt and Remy were eighteen, Dad only involved us on the low-key jumpers—ones where he was pretty sure the suspects wouldn’t be carrying a weapon or pose a serious threat upon apprehension. For the more serious suspects, those with drugs, weapons charges or ones who had done time in prison, Dad used his two beefy body-builder type associates, Jeb and Kyle.
Colt ran his hand over his buzzed hair. “What’s on tap for our share this time?” Of the twins, he was the one most concerned with how our 10-20% of the bounty would be used. We jokingly called him the Accountant. Outfitted in khaki pants and a polo shirt, he even looked the part. 
Dad smiled as his gaze locked on mine. “I believe your sister needs a car.”
“Really? I can finally get the Mustang?” I squealed.
“We catch Oakley, and the Mustang is yours,” Dad replied.
I lunged over and threw my arms around Dad’s neck. I’d been drooling over the classic 67’ burgundy Mustang for months. I had been pestering Dad night and day about it, but until now, my nagging seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.
When I pulled away, Remy tugged on my long ponytail. “That’ll be a sweet ride, Little Sis.”
“Just don’t expect to be borrowing it anytime soon.”
Remy grinned as he slid on his worn Astros baseball cap. “All right, all right. How about I call shotgun for starters?”
“Time out guys. Aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourselves? I mean, where are we even supposed to find this dude?” Colt asked.
“I just had a call from an informant that he’s at Richland Mall,” Dad replied.
Remy snorted. “What’s he doing there? Catching up on the latest fashions?”
Colt snickered with Remy as I cleared my throat. “Since he’s an identity thief, I would imagine he’s working the malls for prospective victims. A lifted wallet or two could mean social security numbers and credit cards, not to mention driver’s licenses.”
Dad bobbed his head. “Jules is absolutely right.”
Remy rolled his eyes. “Of course she is. Jules is always right.”
Mocking Dad’s usual high praise of me, Colt joined in with, “I sure wish we weren’t going to lose Jules to law school. She’s probably going to be a better bounty hunter than all of us put together!” 
Saying my brothers hadn’t been too stoked when Dad officially added me to the Apprehension Team aka “the physically going after the bad guys team” a year ago would be an understatement. It was a major milestone in being a bounty hunter, and the fact that I was only fifteen at the time really irked them. The reason wasn’t that they were sexist pigs who thought girls couldn’t be bounty hunters. No, it was the fact they hadn’t gotten to join until they were sixteen. 
It went without saying that I didn’t appreciate when they gave me crap about it. So, my response was to reach over and smack Remy’s arm.
“Easy killer,” he said with a grin.
Before I could argue, Dad interrupted with, “All right then, we gotta hustle.”  Which in Dad language meant, “Get your earpiece listening devices along with your mace and haul ass to the car!”
Remy’s voice buzzing in my earpiece brought me out of my daydream at Dad’s office and back into the present at the mall. “Crazytrain, eyeballin’ a stacked hottie of epic proportions. ETA to you in two minutes, thirty seconds.”
            I rolled my eyes at the idiocy that was my brothers. We all had code names, so to speak. Colt was Crazytrain, Remy was Rocketman, and I was Jewel of the Nile—a reference to both my nick-name and the first movie my parents saw together on a date. Dad…well, he was Big Papa.         
Colt was quick to reply.  “Copy that, Rocketman. Will be a welcome change from the American Kennel Club that’s been rolling by me the last five minutes. It’s almost like the time we busted that guy at the Westminster Dog Show.”
            I groaned. “Um, excuse me, Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber, could you please think with your brains and not your penises while we’re on the same frequency?”
            “Jewel of the Nile,” my father’s voice warned.
            “Wait a minute, you’re calling me out? But I’m not the one who—”
            “I’m speaking to everyone when I say keep the frequency clear!” Dad ordered.
            “Yes sir,” my brothers and I mumbled.
            We remained true to our vow of silence until Remy’s voice came over the earpiece again. “I have visual with Oakley, Big Papa. He just took the escalator down to the first floor,” he relayed in a hushed tone.  Then he paused. I pictured Remy hurrying onto the escalator--his eyes burning into the back of Oakley’s head. Once Oakley had made his decision on a direction, Remy said, “ETA to your station is two minutes, thirty seconds.”
            “Copy that. All parties move towards the center of the mall,” Dad replied.
            Just before I could toss my drink away, Remy’s voice caused me to shudder to a stop. “Suspect appears heightened someone might be on his tail….Shit, he appears to making a break for it out the side entrance!”
            Dad and I must have been doing mental math at the same time because just as I realized Oakley was coming straight toward me, Dad said, “Jewel of the Nile do not engage the suspect.”
            I didn’t respond. Instead, I positioned myself in front of a storefront, so I could watch for Oakley’s reflection in the glass.
            “Julianne, do not engage!”
             Using my real name meant Dad was extremely, extremely serious, and I should back off. When he had finally allowed me to start coming along on apprehensions, his explicit instructions had been I was never to get physical with any of the suspects. I carried mace like the others, but it was strictly for defensive purposes, not to be used offensively like Dad or the boys did. Not being a full part of the action sucked, and I was more than ready to prove myself.
So I fought the urge to reply, “Like hell!” to Dad. I mean, it wasn’t just about proving myself. If this guy got away, so did the payment for my car. And I wanted that car…bad.
            When Oakley’s reflection emerged on the glass, I drew in a deep breath. I turned and then fell in step behind him. Reaching forward, I tapped him on the back.
 “Excuse me, sir?” I asked in the sweetest voice I could muster.
            He whirled around. His wild eyes darted around us before finally focusing on me. “Whadya want, Blondie?”
            Normally, I would have verbally assaulted anyone who dared call me Blondie and not my name, but now was not the time for that. “I’m doing a survey for the mall on customer appreciation. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?”
            He raked his hand through his disheveled hair.  I don’t think he’d used a comb in a good two weeks. There was probably enough grease in there to deep fry something. “Actually, I’m kinda in a hurry.”
            “Oh, but it won’t take but just a sec. I promise.” I resorted to the worst feminine wiles I could by cocking my head and batting my eyelashes. “See, I’ve got just one more survey to meet my quota, and then I can go home. And I can tell you’re just the kinda guy who wants to help a girl out. Am I right?”
            Before I could humiliate myself further by doing a girlie toss of my ponytail, Oakley sighed. “All right, all right. I’ll answer your damn questions. Now hurry up!”
            A voice in my ear said, “30 seconds ETA to suspect.”
            I smiled. “Oh thank you so much.” Leaning over, I handed Oakley my Brain Freeze. “Hold this just a second, okay?”
            He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, whatever.”
            When I knew the guys were in sight of me, I drew in a deep breath and quickly weighed my options. I had to subdue Oakley. If he caught sight of Dad or my brothers, he would make a run for it, and my Mustang would disappear into thin air just like he would.
As a little girl, my mom had enrolled me in ballet classes while my dad started me in Karate. I knew at this particular moment in time, toe shoes and tutus weren’t going to help. Instead, I drew on my past as one of the easiest self-defense moves popped into my mind. I didn’t question it—I just acted on it.
I cupped both of my hands and then brought them as hard as I could against both of Oakley’s ears. “Oomph!” he cried, before I whirled around and brought my elbow hard into his abdomen. He doubled over and then smacked hard onto the ground.
            The world seemed to crawl to a standstill as Dad and my brothers came rushing up. “Freeze! Don’t move! We have a warrant for your arrest!” Dad shouted, pointing a can of extremely toxic pepper spray at Oakley.
            “How did you drop him?” Colt asked, as Remy bent over and started handcuffing Oakley.
            “Compression hit with a little solarplex disabling.”
            He grinned. “Good choice. Drop em’ while not leaving any marks.”
            “Except maybe a busted ear drum,” Oakley grumbled.
            “It’s all part of the game, man. You run, and you pay the price,” Remy replied, pulling Oakley to his feet.          
            “All right everybody, show’s over,” Dad said, trying to push back the crowd that had gathered since I had taken out Oakley. I guess it wasn’t everyday a teenage chick dropped a dude in the middle of the food court. We weaved our way through the people before coming face to face with Mall Security. Dad quickly flashed his Bail Enforcement Agent badge.
            The guard’s gaze trailed over it and then back to my Dad. “So you’re really a bounty hunter?”
“Sure am.”
The guard leaned in, “So do you like know Dog Chapman?”
            Dad suppressed a laugh. “No, unfortunately I don’t.”
            His face fell. “Bummer.”
             “Yeah, it is. But, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get him over to county.”
            The mall cop nodded. “Oh yeah, sure, go right ahead.”
            Oakley snorted. “Lucky me. Some people have a celebrity like Dog taking them out. But me, I get Blondie here on a roid’ rage!” 
            Dad nudged Oakley. “Watch it, or I’ll let her have a second go at you!”
            He glanced back at me and winked. I bit my lip to keep from laughing. Most fathers might discourage their daughters from getting involved in bounty hunting, but Dad never did. He made sure to take the necessary precautions, but I could tell he would rather have us with him than anything in the world.
A blast of scorching Texas heat met us as we left the cool comfort of the air-conditioned mall. I could even feel the heat of the concrete through my flip-flops. Dad led Oakley to our Tahoe with Remy and Colt on either side of him while I trailed behind them. Once Dad got Oakley buckled in (no easy feat when a guy’s handcuffed), he tossed the keys to Remy. Low key criminal or not, Dad never left one of us alone in the backseat with a fugitive.
            I climbed into the front seat as Remy cranked up. We’d barely gotten out of the mall parking lot when Oakley asked, “Any chance of you bailing me out?”
            Dad sighed. “Now Randy, you should know by now how this all works. You missed two court dates without any calls to your probation officer or your bond agent. That’s a straight ticket to county lockup until your next court date.”
            Oakley grunted but didn’t argue with Dad. Instead, he just peered straight ahead as we dodged in and out of traffic. For a summer night, there seemed to be more people out than usual.
In the last six months, the outside of the Waco City Jail had become a very familiar place to me. But I had yet to manage to weasel my way inside to the booking area. Since I was under eighteen, Dad didn’t permit me to. But with my bladder screaming in agony, I knew now was the night to get in. 
Remy eased the Tahoe up to the backdoor, and Dad hopped out. When I started to open my door, he shook his head. “Jules, you know the drill.”
“But I have to pee!” I protested.
With one hand gripping Oakley’s arm, Dad used his other to pinch the bridge above his nose. “Fine. There’s a bathroom right inside the backdoor. Use it and come right back to the car. Understand?”
            I fought my excitement as I bobbed my head and followed along behind my dad and brothers. When we reached the backdoor, Dad reached over and pressed on a red button.
            An impatient voice crackled over the intercom beside it. “Yeah?”
            “BEA with a felon for booking,” Dad replied.
            The door buzzed unlocked, and Dad pushed Oakley through it. I stood cemented to the ground, taking everything in—the grungy counter where two officers stood waiting to take felons back to jail, the intricate system of locking doors meant to keep criminals in. It was so cool finally seeing it all.
“Right there, Jules,” Dad said, jerking his head towards a unisex bathroom.
            “Okay, thanks.”
            Remy tossed me the car keys, so I wouldn’t have to wait in the scorching heat when I was finished. Dad eased Oakley up to the booking counter as I eyed the bathroom. Even though I had serious questions about the cleanliness of the facility, I still hustled inside and did my business.
             As soon as I was done, I hurried back out to the car and cranked it up. While waiting for Dad and the boys to return, I wished I’d remembered to bring a book—anything to entertain myself. 
            I’d only gone out on one apprehension, so I really shouldn’t have been so tired. But with the adrenaline rush from the mall depleted, it wasn’t long before I nodded off. I didn’t wake up until we pulled into the half-mile driveway leading to our ranch. I guess you could call us typical Texans with the ranch—Dad had a few head of cattle he raised on the side, and we also had horses.
As we jostled over the gravel, I rose up and yawned.
“Catch ya a little nap, Sleeping Beauty,” Dad said, with a smile.
            I grinned. “Yeah, it’s been a long day.”
            “Don’t feel bad. The boys have been snoring since we hit the interstate.”
            A glance in the backseat confirmed that both my brothers were dead to the world.
            Dad glanced over at me. “I imagine you were dreaming of that Mustang, huh?”
            “Maybe. When do you think we can get it?”
            “Hopefully in the next few days if your patience holds out that long.”
            I laughed. “I can try.”
            A shadow crossed over Dad’s face. “Listen Jules, there’s something we need to talk about.”
            “There is?”
            We turned the corner, and the blazing house lights met us. Dad eased the SUV into the driveway. “Let’s try to talk after dinner, okay?”
            If you hadn’t already guessed, patience wasn’t high on my list of virtues. Considering it was already after nine and both Dad and I were exhausted, I wasn’t sure the conversation would actually go down tonight at all. “Whatever,” I mumbled, as I hopped out of the SUV.
            My grandmother, or Big Mama as we called her, stood in the doorway. Outfitted in her favorite pink and white floral housedress, her salt and pepper bob blew in the evening breeze. “How’d it go?” she asked, as she rubbed my back. Even though it was the family business, she still wasn’t thrilled about me going out with the guys. She had managed to discourage my two aunts from doing anything bounty hunting related.
            “We got him, so I get my Mustang.”
            She grinned. “Come on, let’s get inside,” she ordered, ushering me through the door. Dad’s parents had kinda been living with us for the last six years. Originally, they’d moved in full time after my mom had blown town, but when Mom never came home and we got a little older, they started gradually going back to their house. It wasn’t a total hardship on them since their ranch was only a mile down the road. A lot of nights, they’d just go home at bedtime or dark, and Big Mama would be back by breakfast.  I guess you could say we lived on this compound kinda thing. Between Dad, Granddaddy, and my two aunts, we owned almost five hundred acres.
            It was Granddaddy who started Lonestar Bail Bonds forty years ago, and like the boys and me, Dad started working with him when he was just a kid. Granddaddy came from a long line of lawmen—cops, detectives, FBI agents. Enforcing the law was in his blood. He had technically retired a couple of years ago, but he still helped Dad out with cases.
            “Hungry?” Big Mama asked, as our shoes clicked along the blue and white tiled floor of the foyer.
            “Starved,” I replied.
            She nodded. “I’ve kept some chili warm for you and the boys. If you’re starved, I’m sure they’re famished!”
            My stomach grumbled in appreciation at her words. Big Mama’s chili was legendary—she’d even won some local cooking contests with it.
            I eased myself into a chair at the massive mahogany table while Dad went to the sink to wash up. In his favorite striped pajamas and navy robe, Granddaddy padded into the kitchen with a file in his hand. He leaned over and kissed my cheek before turning his attention to Dad. “Tom Blalock called while you guys were out.”
            “Fabulous,” Dad grumbled, grinding the sleep out of his eyes with his fists.         Granddaddy nodded. “Sounds like a doozy,” he replied, as he passed Dad the file.
            Dad flopped down at the head of the table and started thumbing the paperwork. Big Mama came to the table with bowls and silverware. “Nathaniel St. James, what have I said about doing business at the dinner table?”
            Like an obedient child, he closed the file. He tried to change the subject by sniffing appreciatively of the air. “You knew just what I wanted, didn’t you, Mom?”
            Colt and Remy ambled over to the table, still looking bleary eyed from their backseat snoozing.  Although they had already eaten, Granddaddy and Big Mama sat down with us.
            We ate in silence for a few minutes, devouring the chili like it was our last meal on Death Row. As he munched on a corn muffin, Remy eyed the manila folder beside Dad. “What’s the file about?”
            Dad warily glanced at Big Mama who just harrumphed as she got up from the table. When she was elbow deep in soap suds at the sink, Dad thought it was safe to continue. “It’s from my buddy, Tom, in Florida. He’s had a case brewing for a couple of weeks and thought he might bring me in on it.” Dad sighed. “And tonight he officially asked me to take it.”
             Bondsmen often called on other people in the business for help, and since Dad was well known not just in Texas, but throughout the Southeast, he often got called on to pick up a case. Sometimes when we were out of school for the summer, it even involved us packing up for a month or two and renting a house. This summer Dad had been toying with the idea of going to Georgia to help out some of his relatives. I think he’d had a hard time saying yes since that’s where my mom now lived, and it would be too painful for him to be so close to her.
With all that said, I knew Tom asking for help wasn’t too unusual, but the expression on Dad’s face was. He had to be holding something back.
 “Then what’s the problem?” I asked.
Dad hesitated slightly before replying, “The bond is a million dollars.”
            My spoon clattered noisily into my bowl. “Are you serious? A million dollars?”
            Remy and Colt both stared at Dad in disbelief. The largest bounty Dad had ever worked on was in the hundred thousand’s but never more than half a million.
            “But what you have to remember is a guy with a million dollar bond did some pretty serious stuff. Therefore, it’s not like going out to the mall or hunting him through his cronies’ neighborhoods. He’s someone who will make sure he’s not going to be found. That means being heavily armed in a secure hideout.”
            “Wow,” I murmured.
            The table fell silent. We sat that way for an agonizing minute or two before Colt cleared his throat. “So does this mean you’ll be working the case with Tom?” He was asking the question that I knew was on both of the twins and my minds—he just wasn’t asking it directly. And that question was whether we would be working the case as well.
            Dad rubbed his chin with his napkin. “Since Tom brought the case to my attention, I’ve been mulling over the prospect of involving you boys. You’re eighteen now—a legal age to own a gun and fight for your country in war. So, you should be able to come along on the case.”
            Remy and Colt’s eyes widened. “Dude, are you serious? We’re working a million dollar bond case!” Colt exclaimed as Remy asked, “You’re really going to let us go to Florida with you?”
            Dad smiled and bobbed his head. Both boys shot out of their chairs, whooping it up and slapping each other on the back. I, on the other hand, sat in a stunned silence. “And what about me?” I practically shouted over the celebratory noise.
            Dad’s face fell. “Jules, I can’t let you go along on a case like this. You’re too young.”
            “But I’m a part of the Apprehension Team now,” I protested.
            “I’m sorry, but you can’t be a part of this one. It’s too dangerous.”
            Out of respect, the boys stopped celebrating and returned to their chairs. Chewing on my lip, I willed myself not to cry. “I can still come to Florida with you guys, right? Just because I’m not working the case doesn’t mean I have to stay here.”
            Dad and Granddaddy exchanged glances while Big Mama snorted exasperatedly. “You haven’t told her yet, have you?” she demanded.
            My eyebrows arched in surprise. “Told me what?”
            Big Mama wagged her finger at Dad. “I’ve told you for two weeks that you needed to tell Julianne the truth, but did you listen to me? No, of course not! Now you’re going to have to go and tell her tonight?” She shook her head as she untied her yellow gingham apron. “Well, I’m not going to have any part of it.”
            As she flounced out of the room, Granddaddy rose from his chair. He jerked his silver head at the boys, and they obediently followed him out.
            Once we were alone, I crossed my arms over my chest and shot Dad a murderous look. “Why do I get the sudden feeling I’m about to get some really crappy news?”
            He sighed. “Jules, I’ve been talking to your mother—”
A small gasp escaped my lips before I could help myself. “You know how I feel about her!” It was a well-known fact in our family that I held a pretty strong grudge against my mom for leaving. Over the past few years, Colt and Remy had gone and visited her during the summers or some of the holidays. But me, I flat out refused to see or talk to her.
“I know that, but we’ve been speaking pretty frequently the last few months about the boys and you. She sounds a lot better—almost like the old Annabel.” A far-away look entered Dad’s eyes like he was reliving a happy memory. Then he shook his head, pushing away the thoughts of better times. “Anyway, she’s been very concerned about you.”
            “Why me?”
            “Maybe it’s because she hasn’t seen you in two years, and she misses her daughter and her baby.”
            Gritting my teeth, I argued, “I’m not her baby anymore.”
            “Look Jules, I think you’ve avoided your mother long enough. It would be the best thing for the both of you if you spent some time with her in Savannah.”
            I rocketed out of my chair so quick it clattered noisily to the floor. “Are you insane? Spend the entire summer in a strange city with Mom, who might as well be a stranger to me?”
            “Savannah isn’t a strange city. You spent time there every summer when you were little,” Dad argued.
            Shaking my head, I countered, “That’s when we were all still a family and went to see Grandma and Grandpa. But they’re gone now, and there’s nothing left but that massive house that might as well be a tomb!”
            “Jules, please—” Dad reached out for me, but I slung his hand away.
            “I hate her and all those society snobs she worships!” I shook my head furiously. “I won’t go! Do you hear me? I WON’T!”