Clients call her Angel of the Outlaws. Ruby Dark is a fifty-year-old red-haired Lamborghini-driving widow who took over her husband’s Denver bail-bond business after his unsolved murder. Brash, with a shadowy past, Ruby is not a lady to be trifled with should you jump one of her bonds. Bayne Gibson, a wealthy radio-station owner, has made that mistake. He is charged with the murder of his inflammatory talk-show host, found dead in Gibson’s penthouse pool. Ruby posts the $2 million bond, the largest of her career. But Gibson skips his preliminary hearing and disappears. Her business on the line, Ruby goes after him with the help of her best bounty hunter and her nephew Jason, who works for her while studying night-school law. When a second murder occurs, Ruby’s hunt turns personal. And it’s never smart to make things personal for Ruby Dark.
Targeted Age Group:: 18 and above
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I came across several articles about the often disreputable bail bond business and thought a bail bond agent would make an interesting amateur detective. They see the inside of the criminal justice system, deal with some nasty people, and themselves work in a maligned business. What more could I ask for! The plot stemmed from the true story of the murder of a "shock jock" political talk show host in Denver.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
When reading about the bail bond business, I came across stories about women bail bond agents. I thought my main character, Ruby Dark, would be more interesting than a standard male bondsman in the rough-and-tumble world of bail bond agents. I tell the story from the viewpoint of Ruby's nephew, a night-school law student named Jason. I liked using Jason as a foil for several reasons. One, he's new to the bail bond business, so I can use his lack of expertise to explain things about the business the reader needs to know. Second, Jason sees himself becoming more of the prosecutor type of lawyer, so philosophically he and his aunt conflict at times. Third, seeing Ruby through her nephew's eyes is a way to further emphasize her mysterious past.
“Ruby’s Bail Bonds.”
Jason Piszek attempted to suppress a yawn as he answered the phone, but failed miserably. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep. Not long enough, that was for sure. In his brief tenure as a licensed bail bondsman he’d wearily come to realize that success was less a matter of business acumen than a test of sleep deprivation. Friday nights were the worst—every lost soul in Denver got arrested on Friday nights.
“I wish to speak to Ruby Dark.”
The voice at the other end was male and as smooth as polished chrome—not the typical voice of a hooker, DUI, or junkie calling from city jail. But it wasn’t the first time a chrome voice had called Ruby’s Bail Bonds: the wealthy, politicians, corporate pin-stripes, judges, and society types had called to quietly bail out sons driving drunk or daughters caught selling coke. They called Ruby Dark because she was known for her discretion and honesty—characteristics that generally didn’t weigh down the bail bonding business.
“She’s not here right now,” Jason said, straightening in his chair and attempting to sound semi-alert. He picked up his watch lying next to the open pages of his Black’s Law Dictionary. He vaguely recalled looking up a term for his contracts class before he’d dozed off, but now he couldn’t remember the term. He held the watch under a green-shaded bankers lamp. Two twenty-three. A.M. He yawned again. “May I help?”
“I need to speak directly with Mzzzz Dark.”
Mzzzz Dark? Nobody called Ruby Dark Ms. Dark. Certainly not her clients. To them, she was Ruby, or Angel. Angel of the Outlaws. That’s what the hookers, drug dealers, killers, and assorted low-life had christened her. The newspapers had picked up on it, too. Angel of the Outlaws. Mother Teresa of the imprisoned. Well, Mother Teresa in expensive clothes and a five-year-old 1991 red Lamborghini Diablo, anyway. A handful still called her Mrs. Dark—people who’d been bailed out years ago by her husband Al Dark, before she found him one night lying face down in the parking lot behind the office with a bullet in the back of his head. Some of her competitors had other names for her, most not fit for public exposure.
To Jason, she was Aunt Ruby. Half-aunt, technically, on his father’s side.
“I can pass along a message,” he said. He pushed aside stacks of business papers and mail looking for a pen. How the hell does the woman ever find anything in this black lagoon! He pulled open a desk drawer and burrowed through drifts of business cards and ticket stubs from Denver Nuggets games, a worn unlabeled photo of a teenage boy, a birthday card, and empty key rings before he unearthed a pen.
“It’s urgent I speak to Mzzzz Dark immediately,” pressed the chrome voice.
“It’s late,” Jason said, rubbing sleep out of his eyes with the heel of his hand. “I won’t be able to reach her until morning.”
“My client can’t wait that long! He needs to be released now.”
So what else is new? They all want out immediately. But no way in hell was he going to disturb his aunt at this hour. Whoever it was could stew in jail a few more hours. It would probably do the client good.
“Are you his attorney?” asked Jason.
“I’m his business attorney. Another attorney, more . . . familiar . . . with these matters—referred Mzzzz Dark to me. He indicated she’s very discreet.”
Only through superhuman effort had the lawyer managed to keep the word “sleazy” from creeping into his language. While Jason chafed at the man’s arrogant tone, part of him concurred with the unspoken assessment. Bonding out criminals for money was a sleazy business. That was why he was studying law at night school, to become a prosecuting attorney. He wanted to put people in jail, not bail them out.
“Perhaps I can help if you told me exactly what your client needs. I’m an associate of Ms. Dark. The name is Jason Piszek. I’m legally licensed in the state of Colorado to arrange bond, Mr.—?”
The lawyer hesitated, as if the utterance of his name in the presence of a bondsman would forever taint it. “Chenoweth,” he finally managed. “W. T. Chenoweth.”
The lawyer’s tone suggested Jason should instantly recognize the name, but he’d been in Denver less than a year and there were only a few zillion lawyers in town. He said aloud, “Okay, Mr. Chenoweth, if you tell me who your client is and what he’s in for and what bail is set at, I can expedite matters. You can speak to Ms. Dark tomorrow, if that becomes necessary.”
Jason didn’t really want to expedite matters. He just wanted to climb to his garret above the office and go to sleep. But it was his aunt’s business, and every bond he wrote helped pay for law school.
While the lawyer pondered the idea of working with the JV squad, Jason cracked the blinds and peered out the window of the office, located on the second floor above a spay-neuter clinic. The rain must have stopped while he’d dozed, but it still looked threatening. The large, featureless exterior of Denver Police Headquarters across the street, the city jail behind it, loomed larger than usual in the wet heavy air. Directly to the west of police headquarters, on Delaware Street, kitty-corner from Ruby’s Bail Bonds, the neon signs of the half-dozen bonding offices along Bondsmen Row tossed gaudy stains of blues, greens, and reds across dark wet pavement. The sign at Liberty Bonds, the biggest of all the bonding agencies along the Row, owned by Ruby’s arch-rival, the infamous Cadillac Johnson, caught Jason’s eye. One of the red neon tubes in the American flag had burned out.
“Okay, whatever is necessary to begin the process,” Chenoweth said grudgingly. The arrogance in his voice was fading. Now he merely sounded weary and uneasy.
Jason prepared to write on a yellow pad. “Let’s get some details, first. Your client’s name is—?”
“Bayne C. Gibson, Jr. He’s been arrested for first-degree murder.”
The pen started to move, then stopped. Bayne C. Gib—!
Anybody in the city who wasn’t dead knew that name, ever since the police and building security had found Royce Kray, a loud-mouthed, left-wing talk show host, naked at the bottom of a koi pond on Gibson’s 31st-floor downtown penthouse, two bullet holes in his chest and the media mogul standing nearby. Kray had worked at a local radio station, KPOL, owned, along with several other radio stations and medium-sized newspapers, by Gibson Media. Gibson had been arrested yesterday afternoon, four days after Kray’s murder, amid rampant speculation about why it had taken the DA so long to charge him.
Jason fumbled with the cordless phone. “What is bail set at?”
“Two million dollars,” said Chenoweth, as if he were reading off the stock market ticker tape on a slow day.
Jason whistled uncontrollably into the phone. “Who set bond?”
“Judge Andrew Slater.”
That explained it. “King Andy,” as courthouse wags referred to his honor, was one tough sonofabitch most bondsmen dreaded doing business with, though his aunt generally had stayed on the judge’s good side.
“Prima facie, it’s an unreasonable and oppressive bond,” Chenoweth said with sudden anger. “The DA asked for bond to be set at half a million and the judge raised it. Raised it! In light of Bayne’s unequivocal innocence and his exemplary record in this community, a personal recognizance bond would have been sufficient. The amount of the bond is indefensible.”
Jason’s mouth went dry. He grabbed a half-empty cup of coffee, a lipstick print on the rim. He didn’t drink coffee, but it was the only liquid within reach. He took a sip, and the moment he saw the bright red chile-pepper design on the cup he knew he’d made a mistake.
His tongue went numb and his eyes began to water. Shit! He knew better than to eat or drink anything his aunt left around. God knows what she’d laced the coffee with. The woman was an unapologetic chilehead.
He tried to say something to Chenoweth but it was like trying to talk with lips shot full of Novocain.
“Is there a problem?” said Chenoweth.
“No,” Jason finally managed. The fire in his mouth began to subside. His lips tingled. “It’s just that writing a bond that large might take a little longer than usual.”
“How much longer?” A desperate edge crept into the lawyer’s voice.
Good question. Jason had personally never written a bond for anywhere near that amount, and the largest his aunt had written was $900,000 on a man who’d murdered his twin daughters. Jason wasn’t even sure Ruby could execute a bond that large. There were statutes about the bonding agent having sufficient financial resources to cover the face value of a bond. Usually bondsmen backed by insurance companies, not cash bondsmen like his aunt, wrote the really big ones. Still, it didn’t take an accountant to calculate on his toes that the standard 15-percent premium for posting a $2 million bond was a tidy $300,000.
“Three or four days, minimum,” said Jason, knowing that even that was unrealistic.
“Bayne won’t wait that long!” yelled Chenoweth. “He’s at city jail right now in a holding cell full of perverts throwing up all over him. I’m deeply concerned about his mental well-being. He needs to be out—tonight!”
Ah, the infamous “fish tank.” The place must be one helluva shock for a rich bastard like Gibson.
“He’s not going to get out tonight, Mr. Chenoweth. We’re talking about a major bond here. We need to draw up a list of personal assets as collateral to secure the bond, examine his corporate records, obtain bank account numbers, talk to relatives and friends and business associates, draw up an indemnity agreement—and it’s Friday night. It’ll be Monday at the earliest before we can start moving on much of this.”
The phone fell silent on the other end. The man may be a crackerjack business attorney, thought Jason, but he was out of his league when it came to Murder One.
“All right, how do we proceed?” the attorney said heavily.
Jason scribbled down a few vital pieces of information and assured the lawyer he would get right on it, though he wasn’t sure where one started with a bond this big.
“You will be bringing Mzzzz Dark in on this, won’t you?” said Chenoweth. “It’s imperative she be involved.”
“There’s no doubt about it, Mr. Chenoweth. She’ll be in touch.”
Jason hung up. The soft patter of the rain had started again, but it wasn’t loud enough to drown out the snoring of Collateral. Jason glanced over in the dim light at the lazy, overweight Old English Mastiff, sprawled on the parquet floor, his body twitching in dog dreams. Collateral always was asleep. Like any bondsman’s dog, he had learned to sleep through ringing telephones and human conversations.
Although Collateral was his aunt’s dog, she couldn’t care less about canines in general, or Collateral in particular. She didn’t like critters that slobbered. Her tastes ran more to cats, like Alabaster, a black Persian who’d mysteriously appeared at the office one early-spring morning and had made herself at home ever since.
The only reason Ruby had kept the dog was because he was, as his name implied, collateral for a bond. A 40-year-old man—at least as Ruby had told the story—had been arrested for stealing a new Porsche, but he didn’t have any assets to back up his $4,500 bond. Ruby noticed that he appeared overly attached to his Old English Mastiff, so she took in the dog as collateral. Over the years, she’d taken in cars, jewelry, guns, rare books, paintings, computers, and even a new washing machine, so why not a dog? Her rationale was that a man might skip out on his premium, his wife and kids, his business, even on a home put up by his own parents—but never, never would a man skip out on his dog.
Where his aunt had developed this blind, quaint faith in canines and their loyal owners, Jason had no idea, but it proved a faith betrayed. The dog’s owner lit out two days before trial, never to be seen again.
Ruby went after him, of course. She went after every skip, even if it was only on a $100 bond. In the bail bonding business, you either build a reputation that you’ll chase, or you’re history.
That was two years ago. The last they’d heard, the skip was sticking up convenience stores in Arkansas. After a year of appeals and delaying tactics, the judge ordered Ruby to make good on the bond. She’d catch the skip someday, or the cops would do it for her. When that happened, the judge might rescind the forfeiture. He wasn’t required to by law, but some judges did now and then, especially if good faith was shown by the bondsman. Until then, Collateral had a home.
Jason looked just above the dog, on the brick wall near the file cabinets. A framed copy of his aunt’s personal motto hung there. He couldn’t see it well in the shadowed light, but he knew what was inscribed in Latin: Illigitium non carborundum.
Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
He called Ruby Dark.
Bruce W. Most loves to read and write classic whodunits. He grew up on a diet of Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, and his grandfather’s collection of Perry Mason books. Many mystery readers love figuring out the puzzle, and Bruce believes in playing fair with them. His favorite mystery writer is the great Raymond Chandler, who he pays homage to in his award-winning mystery, MURDER ON THE TRACKS, about a 1949 Denver cop who finds that redemption comes at a high price. His award-winning ROPE BURN involves cattle rustling and murder in contemporary Wyoming ranch country. Yep, cattle rustling still exists. He also is the author of two mysteries featuring a feisty Denver bail bondswoman Ruby Dark: BONDED FOR MURDER and MISSING BONDS. As a former freelance writer, he published in such magazines as Parade, TV Guide, American Way, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and Travel & Leisure. He ghost wrote a self-help book, The Power of Choice, and wrote over 1,000 articles on financial planning topics for the Financial Planning Association. He and his wife live in Denver, Colorado, where he enjoys travel, photography, tennis—and golf if he’s playing well.
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