Today, I've got the first chapter of a book I called LOVE, LOSS AND BAIL ON THE VEGAS STRIP. I was trying to do something different from my first novel, SCOT ON THE ROCKS, and create a protagonist that wasn't me. She was the anti-me. A tough-talking, take-no-prisoners type who was born and raised in Las Vegas.
Problem one: I showed it to my mother, who is always my first reader. I was worried that I didn't quite have the voice down yet. I asked her if it sounded like a tough-talking bail bondsman from downtown Vegas, or if it sounded like a sheltered girl from the suburbs who was merely TRYING to sound like a tough-talking bail bondsman from Vegas. She thought the latter.
Problem two: I debuted a chapter of this in my writing class and the teacher said: This is great! It's just like those Stephanie Plum novels! I said: Stephanie who?! It was only later when I googled Stephanie Plum that I realized that Janet Evanovich had created a cottage industry around a tough-talking female bail bondsman. I didn't think that publishing had room for one more.
I figured this thing was dead in the water. And it probably is. But, just for fun, here goes:
LOVE, LOSS AND BAIL ON THE VEGAS STRIP
By Brenda Janowitz
“Bailbondsman?” a frat boy who can’t be more than twenty years old asks me. “But you’re a girl. Shouldn’t you be called bailbondswoman or something?”
He laughs real loud and his three lookalike friends behind him laugh along even though it wasn’t really that funny and they aren’t here for fun and games, they’re here to post bail for their friend who’s being held for manslaughter—a $500,000 bond here in the great state of Nevada. They are all dressed identically—each one in a different pastel colored Lacoste short sleeved polo shirt and designer jeans that they probably bought already worn in and dirty. You can get overpriced crap like that at the Caesar’s Forum Shops. The five hundred grand probably doesn’t even mean a thing to these kids. But, to me, it’s everything. I need that 10% fee to stay in business.
I lean in real close. We’re eye to eye, but I can see his eyes go down my neck and land squarely on my breasts.
“I don’t really think there’s any chance of anyone getting confused,” I reply. As he nods in agreement, his eyes don’t even come back up to meet my eyes.
My name is Cat and I’m a bailbondsman. Or woman. Whatever. I’m usually not too concerned with people getting confused about it. I have been running this business for years now—ever since my daddy died.
We do it all here, we’re a full service shop: post bail bonds, cash checks…. we can even notarize something for you if you’d like (my Bounty Hunter Donny’s also a notary). But the bonds are our bread and butter here, so I mostly cover that stuff.
My best friend, Heavenly, works here with me ever since my daddy’s old secretary, Dottie, finally retired at 75 years young. I met Heavenly about five years ago when I posted her bond for her killing her husband. Really. She killed him. Cold blood and everything. She walked in on him sleeping with some other woman, and ever so calmly walked directly to the bedside table, took out her hubby’s gun, and shot them both.
I like her style.
In the end, she got off practically scot free. Heat of the moment and all that. It’s true. I know this kind of stuff. I used to date a lawyer. You see, if she had gone downstairs to get the gun or hesitated for even one minute, they could have really nailed her because it would have been premeditated. But, since she moved so quickly and without really thinking, it was the heat of passion, and she was set. Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?
My daddy was a GI stationed in California in 1968. He hit the newly built Caesar’s Palace in Vegas on the way back from California to his home in the Bronx after his tour of duty and fell in love with a showgirl. They spent a blissful three days together until his father called him back home to go work in the family business—a bail bonds outfit right near the Federal Courthouse in White Plains.
He sent love letters to that showgirl every day for three months. She never responded, but he kept on writing. After three months, she finally gave him a call to tell him she was pregnant.
Inside of a week, he was back in town, married that pretty showgirl in a quickie ceremony, and bought a starter house for them to begin their lives. Six months later, they gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, who they named Elizabeth, after my daddy’s mother. They called her Bessie.
When my daddy came back into town to take care of my mother, he did the only thing he knew how—bail bonds, just like his daddy had done in the Bronx. His daddy set him up with a local guy, Louie Stone, who showed him the ropes. Things were great for a while until Louie decided he wanted to post a bond for the guy who’d tried to shoot Benny Binion in an underground poker game. My daddy wouldn’t do it—you do not go against Benny Binion in the city of Las Vegas. It’s just simply not done. You see, the man is a Las Vegas legend, and you show a man like that respect. For God’s sake, my daddy played in the first World Series of Poker—Benny Binion’s brainchild—in 1970. Louie and my daddy parted ways and my dad opened his own shop, Malone and Sons Bail Bonds, right across the street. (This was before I was a twinkle in his eye and my daddy was positive that his second child would be a boy.)
Business was real tough at the outset, and after a while, that pretty showgirl got tired of clipping coupons and ran off with an LA record exec who has since declared bankruptcy. My sister was three and I was just a baby. Our mother never came back, even when our daddy died twelve years later.
“This is how it’s going to work,” I say to the frat boy as he pulls out his checkbook, “You pay me 10% of the bond, I post it for you, and if your friend shows up for his date with the judge, we’re all aces and kings. If he doesn’t,” I say, careful to pause and make sure I’ve got his full attention, because this is the important part, “you’re on for the whole half a mil. Got it?”
“Got it,” the frat boy says, eyeing Heavenly, in a microscopic gold skirt and white lace tube top, up and down. Heavenly smiles back. Then his eyes turn to me, starting at the top of my white wife beater, traveling down to my used Levi’s all the way to my combat boots. My usual uniform for the day, all purchased at an Army Navy shop in Henderson, the neighborhood where I live. I get most of my clothes at that same Army Navy shop, with the exception of my most prized possession—my red leather jacket. Paper thin and soft as a baby’s bottom, it’s perfect for the mild Vegas weather (except for the summers when it’s oppressively hot, but that’s when I send the jacket to my sister in New York, who brings it to her “special leather guy in midtown” who cleans it up, reinforces the buttons, and makes it look new again in time for September). It was bought while chasing down a mark with Donny in Italy. When our mark hit Florence, I told Donny that we had to take an afternoon off to check out the flea market—famous for its top shelf leather goods. Heavenly had specifically requested that if our mark hit Florence, we get her a pair of leather gloves. It was there that I picked up my red leather jacket and also nailed my mark—his girlfriend had the same idea to stop and hit the flea market. We picked them up just as he was trying on a pair of leather jeans. He was sort of stuck in them and couldn’t run from us fast enough. I love it when shit like that happens.
“That’s why you’re giving me proof that you can pay the whole half a mil, you get it?”
“Got it,” he says, casually passing me a faxed copy of the deed to his Washington, D.C. brownstone. His eyes have left me and are back to running up and down Heavenly’s dancer’s bod. She danced from the time she ran away from home at fifteen until she killed her husband at twenty-five, and she’s got the gams to prove it.
“And if you’re on for the whole half a mil,” I say, directing his eyes back to me, “you’ve got yourself a little date with my muscle, Donny.”
Donny stands up from his desk in the back and looks at the frat boy. That is, all six foot five, three hundred pounds of him stands up and stares at the frat boy. Donny’s face wears no expression, but when you’re six foot five, three hundred pounds, your body speaks for itself. I can see the frat boy trying to hide his fear, in the same way I’m sure he’d learned to when he was being hazed by the older members of his fraternity, but when you’re in my business, you can smell fear a mile away.
Things are black and white in my business, much like life. You’re either guilty or innocent, you can either pay your bail or you can’t, you either stay for the hearing, or you run.
My mother, that pretty showgirl, taught me that. You either stay or you leave. You show up or you don’t. That’s just the type of person you are. One or the other. It’s practically out of your control. I’m the type of person who stays, and I try to surround myself with other like-minded people.
“Understand?” I ask the frat boy. He shakes his head ‘yes’ and Donny sits back down and goes back to the newspaper he’d been thumbing through.
I’ve known Donny since the day I was born. Daddy grew up with him back in the Bronx. When he went out on his own after breaking away from Louie, my daddy brought Donny out to Vegas and hired him to be his muscle in the shop. Most people wouldn’t hire an ex-con, at that time Donny had already done some time for a bunch of petty crimes—fights and the like—and my daddy was the only one in Vegas (and the Bronx, and the greater New York metropolitan area, incidentally) who would give him a shot. They were closer than just friends, than just business colleagues, they were like brothers. My daddy was the best man at Donny’s wedding, and served as the godfather to Donny’s little baby girl. Donny’s godfather to my sister and me, too.
As per my daddy’s will, Donny was supposed to be our legal guardian should anything happen to him. Unfortunately, at the time that my daddy died, Donny was at the tail end of a five year stint (ten really, but five with parole) in the Federal Pen for killing the drunk driver who had killed his wife and kid.
In Donny’s absence, our daddy’s secretary, Dottie, took my fifteen year old sister, Bessie, and me in until one day Social Services came calling. I never was sure who turned us in and I try not to think about it too much. That night, at three o’clock in the morning, my sister grabbed me and her boyfriend and put us all on a bus bound for New York City.
We got a fifth-story walk up studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen right on Ninth Avenue near the bus terminal. It was by no means a safe neighborhood, but we had my sister’s fifteen year old boyfriend, Dez, and a kindly Super named Sammy who watched out for us.
About a month before Dottie’s life savings had run out (which Dottie had given to us—my sister’s a lot of things, but she isn’t a thief), Bessie had scored a role on the daytime soap The Sun Never Sets on Tomorrow. I wasn’t surprised at all when she got the role. For one—I was twelve years old at the time, and when you’re twelve years old, you tend to think that anything is possible, even impossible dreams. For the other—by fifteen, her boobs were already bigger than mine are now, and she had the same silky black hair and big blue eyes that I have. Dez and I found Bessie a fake ID that said she was sixteen and had Dottie mail in parental consents to get her on the set.
Bessie was tutored on the set until she was eighteen and she somehow got me a scholarship to a fancy Upper East Side private high school. I don’t know how she did it, but my sister is one of those people who can make anything happen. From my fancy Upper East Side private school, I was a shoe in to get into Harvard. They didn’t offer me a scholarship, but by then, Bessie was making enough money as a soap star to foot the bill for me and it was my dream to go. I know that she never would have paid if she knew that the real reason I wanted to go to college was to get a degree in business and re-open my daddy’s shop in Vegas, but by the time I graduated and told her of my plans, it was already too late. When we argue, she sometimes tells me that she wants the Harvard money back, with juice. I try to be careful not to argue with her.
“Just sign here and we’re all set,” I say to the frat boy with a smile. Usually, I have Heavenly take care of the minutia like this, but with a bond so high, I want all my “i”s dotted and “t”s crossed. I cannot afford to lose this money. The 10% I’m collecting on this bond is enough to keep my lease on the building and the business just barely in the black. This business is all I have left of my daddy, and it’s not going anywhere as long as I have something to say about it.
I look over his paperwork as he examines mine before signing. This frat boy is attaching his two million dollar brownstone in D.C. as collateral for the bond. I see from his application that these kids go to Georgetown. I try not to think about the fact that this kid who is ten years younger than me owns more real property than I do as he signs his name—Albert Thomas Finnegan, the third.
I’m the author of SCOT ON THE ROCKS and JACK WITH A TWIST. (And, ahem, the very unpublished LOVE, LOSS AND BAIL ON THE VEGAS STRIP.) My third novel, RECIPE FOR A HAPPY LIFE, will be published by St. Martin's in 2013. My work’s also appeared in the New York Post and Publisher’s Weekly. You can find me at brendajanowitz.com or on Twitter at @BrendaJanowitz.