"So, white girl" Lula said as she filed the non-existent snag she'd found on her perfect nails. "You ready for some Batman lovin' tonight?" She asked, waggling her eyebrows and leaning carefully against Connie's desk, ignoring the pile a large pile of filing that threatened to fall off the corner at any moment.
Steph shrugged her shoulders noncommittally in reply and stuffed the remains of a piece of greasy chicken in her mouth.
"You know he wants you. I think it's a forever kinda thing." She added, looking at Connie for support. "He always looks at you like you're lunch, dinner and breakfast. I'd say you could be one lucky lady tonight."
Connie nodded her head in agreement.
Admittedly Joe and Steph were no longer an item and steadily Ranger had been sliding further into her life. Not just giving her cars and men to destroy, but his time too. She'd help him with his distractions and somehow they'd always celebrate at some restaurant or nightclub and then dance the night away.
He'd given her a job which he said she could do as and when she wanted, but part of the deal was that he taught her self-defence. Somehow she seemed to spend an awful lot of time flat on her back on the mats trying to wriggle out from under him. One day Tank had even muttered something like "most skips wouldn't tackle her to the ground but try to run away" as he'd walked past them and over to the treadmill. Ranger had just looked blankly at him and continued to cover her with his body.
He'd taken her with him to visit Julie, saying that she needed closure on the Scrog deal and that Stephanie might be of some help. They'd had a wonderful time and spent most of their time on the beach, shopping or eating but then therapy comes in many guises, right?
But the one thing he never did any more was invite her up to seven and that confused her.
Steph knew she wanted more, but couldn't decide whether Ranger wanted to molest her mind as well as her body so had been careful to avoid enclosed spaces with just the two of them. She loved him too much to let him toy with her heart then walk away. Their friendship would never survive.
Vinnie chose that moment to walk in. He glared at the three women in front of him. "Gees, if I paid you to stand around all day you'd be getting employee of the month awards, but as I pay you to clear up my paperwork I suggest you go find me some villains." He rolled his eyes when they failed to move "NOW!" he yelled which made Steph and Connie jump, then he turned into his office and slammed the door behind him.
Connie flicked him the bird.
"I saw that!" he bellowed as he locked the door.
"So, as I was sayin' before I was rudely interrupted" Lula said, glaring and poking her tongue out at Vinnie's door, "are you gonna get down and dirty with the Wizard before next week so that the best man and maid of honour dance has some real meanin?"
Steph rolled her eyes in response.
In less than a week Tank and Lula would be tying the knot and tonight was party night. Steph shook her head. How and why had she agreed to stand next to Ranger in a church and listen to someone else getting married? Admittedly she didn't want the whole wedding thing, but a stable loving relationship would be nice...
Steph sighed and licked the last of the sugary goodness from her fingers then began to look through the files Connie had given her half an hour earlier.
"Need any help? There's not much filin' anyways" Lula asked looking hopeful as she hid the filing behind her tiger inspired, too tight, bright orange spandex dress.
Steph pulled up to the address on the file for one seriously weird skip. Rufus N Chaka Khan (yes, really) was a part time DJ specialising in '70's music had been caught smoking "backstage" in a nightclub he was working at, ok, he was found in the Manager's office. When a bouncer was alerted, Rufus attacked him and the pair of them had ended up in hospital with broken bones and plenty of bruises.
He had no previous convictions and no history of violence so was a low-bond skip which was why Steph and Lula were sitting outside his sad and sorry looking duplex.
"So, GBH, smoking in an enclosed space" Steph said before adding, drily "oh, and wearing offensive gold lamé pants."
Lula snorted her coffee out of her nose "Godammit, Steph, don't joke about things like that when I'm drinkin'. I've just covered your car in nose cooties!"
Steph looked at her companion who was now dripping coffee from her nose and giggled "Sorry!"
After they'd both calmed down Steph outlined the plan. Rufus had seen Steph at one of the clubs he worked when she'd been out partying with Ranger and the Merry Men so Lula agreed to go knock on the door. "I've got your back, pardner" Steph drawled out in her dodgey John Wayne impression as they stepped out of the pale gray SUV Steph had bought the previous week. It wasn't flashy and at 12 years old had seen better days, but it would do until it received the call of the wild...
Lula walked up the steps onto the porch and rang the bell, turning she grinned at Steph who was hanging back, just out of view, and gave her a double thumbs up - the skip was clearly coming to answer the door. Rufus Khan opened the door, took one look at Lula, turned and saw Steph and threw the coffee he had been drinking all down Lula's tiger print dress then ran back inside.
Lula, in full rhino mode, grabbed the front door and threw it open. At that moment the world seemed to slow down to an almost standstill.
Steph saw everything in Glorious technicolour, High Definition with enhanced 3D yet somehow sound seemed to have been distorted so that it felt like it was coming through syrup. She was too far away and there was fuck all she could do to help her best friend who ran into the flurry of bullets from the gun their FTA was now wielding.
Lula jerked as bullets ripped through her beautiful, luminous skin and deep red stains blossomed all over her dress, her once pristine ringlets swung wildly in time with her hideous dance. Suddenly she stopped mid lurch, collapsed on the top step and slid head first gracelessly down the three stairs that joined the duplex to the sidewalk.
Something snapped and the world came back to full speed as Steph reached into the back of her jeans, pulling out her gun. She screamed at Khan to drop his weapon but when he carried on shooting wildly she fired one round and he fell like a sack of potatoes, dropping his gun which clattered noisily onto the wooden porch.
Steph grabbed her phone and called 911, all the time racing to the porch where she kicked Rufus to check on his status then she knelt down slowly to assess the damage. Black dots started to cloud her view but she calmly described the scene in front of her.
No Bachelorette party tonight, then, Steph thought as she pulled a limp and bloody Lula into her arms.
Two minutes later Steph heard the sad wail of an ambulance, she cradled her best friend in her arms, slowly rocking back and forth as tears slid down her face. Lula looked at peace, asleep, despite her clothes betraying the horrible reality. Most of the tiger print pattern was now obscured by deep rich red, some of which was tiny insignificant dots but much of it was wide deep stains. She couldn't believe Lula was gone. It didn't seem real that she could be lying there, her life blood drying into the ground around her. Steph hugged her tighter in an attempt to warm Lula's slowly cooling body and bring her back to life.
Steph felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. Ranger was here. Oh my God she thought, if Ranger was here then so was... Tank!
"Keep him away!" she screamed at Ranger as she saw Tank's outline sprinting in her direction.
Ranger nodded and immediately understood. Tank slammed into him as Ranger reached for his stun gun. Steph heard him say "Sorry, my friend" then out of the corner of her eye she saw Tank slump into Ranger's arms.