Takedown twenty, p.1
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       Takedown Twenty, p.1

         Part #20 of Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich
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Takedown Twenty


  Takedown Twenty is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2013 by Evanovich, Inc.

  Excerpt from The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg copyright © 2013 by The Gus Group LLC

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.

  BANTAM BOOKS and the HOUSE colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

  ISBN 978-0-345-54288-5

  eBook ISBN 978-0-345-54290-8

  www.bantamdell.com

  Cover design: Carlos Beltrán.

  Typography: Phil Pascuzzo

  v3.1

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Chapter Twenty-six

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  Excerpt from The Heist

  Other Books by This Author

  About the Author

  ONE

  IT WAS LATE at night and Lula and I had been staking out Salvatore Sunucchi, better known as Uncle Sunny, when Lula spotted Jimmy Spit. Spit had his prehistoric Cadillac Eldorado parked on the fringe of the Trenton public housing projects, half a block from Sunucchi’s apartment, and he had the trunk lid up.

  “Hold on here,” Lula said. “Jimmy’s open for business, and it looks to me like he got a trunk full of handbags. I might need one of them. A girl can never have too many handbags.”

  Minutes later, Lula was examining a purple Brahmin bag studded with what Spit claimed were Swarovski crystals. “Are you sure this is a authentic Brahmin bag?” Lula asked Spit. “I don’t want no cheap-ass imitation.”

  “I have it on good authority these are the real deal,” Spit said. “And just for you I’m only charging ten bucks. How could you go wrong?”

  Lula slung the bag over her shoulder to take it for a test drive, and a giraffe loped past us. It continued on down the road, turning at Sixteenth Street and disappearing into the darkness.

  “I didn’t see that,” Lula said.

  “I didn’t see that neither,” Spit said. “You want to buy this handbag or what?”

  “That was a giraffe,” I said. “It turned the corner at Sixteenth Street.”

  “Probably goin’ the 7-Eleven,” Spit said. “Get a Slurpee.”

  A black Cadillac Escalade with tinted windows and a satellite dish attached to the roof sped past us and hooked a left at Sixteenth. There was the sound of tires screeching to a stop, then gunfire and an ungodly shriek.

  “Not only didn’t I see that giraffe,” Spit said, “but I also didn’t see that car or hear that shit happening.”

  He grabbed the ten dollars from Lula, slammed the trunk lid shut, and took off.

  “They better not have hurt that giraffe,” Lula said. “I don’t go with that stuff.”

  I looked over at her. “I thought you didn’t see the giraffe.”

  “I was afraid it might have been the ’shrooms on my pizza last night what was making me see things. I mean it’s not every day you see a giraffe running down the street.”

  My name is Stephanie Plum, and I work as a bond enforcement officer for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. Lula is the office file clerk, but more often than not she’s my wheelman. Lula is a couple inches shorter than I am, a bunch of pounds bigger, and her skin is a lot darker. She’s a former streetwalker who gave up her corner but kept her wardrobe. She favors neon colors and animal prints, and she fearlessly tests the limits of spandex. Today her brown hair was streaked with shocking pink to match a tank top that barely contained the bounty God had bestowed on her. The tank top stopped a couple inches above her skintight, stretchy black skirt, and the skirt ended a couple inches below her ass. I’d look like an idiot if I dressed like Lula, but the whole neon pink and spandex thing worked for her.

  “I gotta go see if the giraffe’s okay,” Lula said. “Those guys in the Escalade might have been big game poachers.”

  “This is Trenton, New Jersey!”

  Lula was hands on hips. “So was that a giraffe, or what? You don’t think it’s big game?”

  Since Lula was driving we pretty much went where Lula wanted to go, so we jumped into her red Firebird and followed the giraffe.

  There was no Escalade or giraffe in sight when we turned the corner at Sixteenth, but a guy was lying facedown in the middle of the road, and he wasn’t moving.

  “That don’t look good,” Lula said, “but at least it’s not the giraffe.”

  Lula stopped just short of the guy in the road, and we got out and took a look.

  “I don’t see no blood,” Lula said. “Maybe he’s just takin’ a nap.”

  “Yeah, or maybe that thing implanted in his butt is a tranquilizer dart.”

  “I didn’t see that at first, but you’re right. That thing’s big enough to take down a elephant.” Lula toed the guy, but he still didn’t move. “What do you suppose we should do with him?”

  I punched 911 into my phone and told them about the guy in the road. They suggested I drag him to the curb so he didn’t get run over, adding that they’d send someone out to scoop him up.

  While we waited for the EMS to show, I rifled the guy’s pockets and learned that his name was Ralph Rogers. He had a Hamilton Township address, and he was fifty-four years old. He had a MasterCard and seven dollars.

  The EMS truck slid in without a lot of fanfare. Two guys got out and looked at Ralph, who was still on his stomach with the dart stuck in him.

  “That’s not something you see every day,” the taller of the two guys said.

  “The dart might have been meant for the giraffe,” Lula told them. “Or maybe he’s one of them shape-shifters, and he used to be the giraffe.”

  The two men went silent for a beat, probably trying to decide if they should get the butterfly net out for Lula.

  “It’s a full moon,” the shorter one finally said.

  The other guy nodded, and they loaded Ralph into the truck and drove off.

  “Now what?” Lula asked me. “We going to look some more for Uncle Sunny, or we going to have a different activity, like getting a pizza at Pino’s?”

  “I’m done. I’m going home. We’ll pick up Sunny’s trail tomorrow.”

  Truth is, I was going home to a bottle of champagne I had chilling in my fridge. It had been left on my kitchen counter a couple days before as partial payment for a job I’d done for my friend and sometime employer Ranger. The champagne had come with a note suggesting that Ranger needed a date. Okay, so Ranger is hot, and luscious, and magic in bed, but that didn’t totally compensate for the fact that the last time I’d been Ranger’s date I’d been poisoned. I’d been saving the champagne for a special occasion, and it seemed like seeing a giraffe ru
nning down the street qualified.

  Lula drove me back to the bonds office, I picked up my car, and twenty minutes later I was in my apartment, leaning against the kitchen counter, guzzling champagne. I was watching my hamster, Rex, run on his wheel when Ranger walked in.

  Ranger doesn’t bother with trivial matters like knocking, and he isn’t slowed down by a locked door. He owns an elite security firm that operates out of a seven-story stealth office building located in the center of Trenton. His body is perfect, his moral code is unique, his thoughts aren’t usually shared. He’s in his early thirties, like me, but his life experience adds up to way beyond his years. He’s of Latino heritage. He’s former Special Forces. He’s sexy, smart, sometimes scary, and frequently overprotective of me. He was currently armed and wearing black fatigues with the Rangeman logo on his sleeve. That meant he was on patrol duty, most likely filling in for one of his men.

  “Working tonight?” I asked him.

  “Taking the night shift for Hal.” He looked at my glass. “Are you drinking champagne out of a beer mug?”

  “I don’t have any champagne glasses.”

  “Babe.”

  “Babe” covers a lot of ground for Ranger. It can be the prelude to getting naked. It can be total exasperation. It can be a simple greeting. Or, as in this case, it can just mean I’ve amused him.

  Ranger smiled ever so slightly and took a step closer to me.

  “Stop,” I said. “Don’t come any closer. The answer is no.”

  His brown eyes locked onto me. “I didn’t ask a question.”

  “You were going to.”

  “True.”

  “Well, don’t even think about it, because I’m not going to do it.”

  “I could change your mind,” he said.

  “I don’t think so.”

  Okay, truth is Ranger could change my mind. Ranger can be very persuasive.

  Ranger’s cellphone buzzed, he checked the text message and moved to the door. “I have to go. Give me a call if you change your mind.”

  “About what?”

  “About anything.”

  “Okay, wait a minute. I want to know the question.”

  “No time to explain it,” Ranger said. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at seven o’clock. A little black dress would be good. Something moderately sexy.”

  And he was gone.

  TWO

  I DRAGGED MYSELF out of bed as the morning sun poured through the opening in my bedroom curtains. I showered, blasted my shoulder-length curly brown hair with the blow dryer, and pulled the whole mess back into a ponytail. I brushed my teeth, swiped some mascara onto my lashes, and went with cherry lip gloss.

  Hunting down felons for my cousin Vinnie isn’t a great-paying job, but I make my own hours and I wear what’s comfy. A girly T-shirt, jeans, sneakers, handcuffs, and pepper spray, and I’m good to go.

  I gave Rex fresh water and a Ritz cracker, grabbed the messenger bag I use as a purse, and took off for the office. I live in a second-floor one-bedroom, one-bath, no-frills apartment on the outskirts of Trenton. It’s not a slum, but it’s not high rent either. Mostly my apartment building is filled with seniors who take advantage of the early-bird special at the nearby diner and live for the moment they’ll qualify for a handicap sticker on their car. They’re all heavily armed, so the property is relatively safe, if you don’t count shootings that are the result of mistaken identity due to cataracts and macular degeneration. My apartment overlooks the parking lot, which is fine by me because I can peek out once in a while to see if anyone’s stolen my car.

  It was a glorious Tuesday morning in the middle of summer, and traffic was light thanks to the absence of school buses. I parked in the small lot behind Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. There were four spaces, and three were already filled. My cousin Vinnie’s Cadillac was there. Connie the office manager’s Toyota was there. And Lula had her red Firebird there. I added my rusted-out mostly white Ford Taurus to the group and went inside.

  “Uh-oh,” Lula said when she saw me. “You got that look.”

  “What look?” I asked.

  “That look like you didn’t get any last night.”

  I went straight to the coffee machine. “I almost never get any. I’m used to it. Morelli is playing catch-up with his caseload.”

  Joe Morelli is a Trenton plainclothes cop working crimes-against-persons. I grew up with Morelli, lost my virginity to him, ran over him with my father’s Buick in a fit of justifiable rage, and now years later he’s my boyfriend. Go figure. He’s a good cop. He’s a terrific lover. And he’s got a dog. He’s six feet of hot Italian libido, with wavy black hair, a hard-toned body, and brown eyes that could set my pants on fire. He’s been sidelined with a gunshot wound, but now he’s back on the job, popping pain pills.

  “So then how come you got that look this morning, like you need at least three donuts?” Lula asked.

  “Ranger came by last night.”

  Lula leaned forward, eyes wide. “Say what?”

  Connie looked up from her computer. “And?”

  “He wanted a date.”

  “I’m havin’ heart palpitations,” Lula said. “That is one fine man. Fact is, that is the hottest man I ever saw. You did the nasty with him last night, right? I want to know everything.”

  “I didn’t do anything with him. He wanted a date for tonight.”

  “Holy crap,” Lula said.

  “And?” Connie said.

  “And I had a restless night thinking about it,” I told them.

  “I bet,” Lula said. “If it was me I would have been burning out the motor on my intimate appliances.”

  I checked out the box of donuts on Connie’s desk and chose a maple glazed. “Last time I agreed to be Ranger’s date his friend blew himself up in my apartment.”

  “Yeah, but Ranger brought in a cleaning crew to get the brains and guts off the walls,” Lula said. “That was real thoughtful.”

  “What’s new?” I asked Connie. “Anything good come in for me?”

  I don’t get paid a salary. I make my money by retrieving felons for Vinnie. When someone is accused of a crime they can sit in jail until trial or they can give the court a bucketload of money as a guarantee they’ll return. If they don’t have the money, they go to my cousin and he puts up a bond for a fee. If the bondee doesn’t show for court, the court keeps Vinnie’s money. This doesn’t make Vinnie happy, so he sends me out to find the guy and drag him back to jail. Then I get a percentage of the money Vinnie gets back from the court.

  “Nothing interesting,” Connie said. “Just a couple low money bonds. Ziggy Radiewski didn’t show up for court, and Mary Treetrunk didn’t show up for court.”

  “What’d Ziggy do this time?” Lula asked.

  “He relieved himself on Mrs. Bilson’s dog,” Connie said. “And then he mooned Mrs. Bilson. He said it was accidental, and he was a victim of temporary insanity due to alcohol poisoning.”

  “He probably got that right,” Lula said.

  “I don’t care about any of those,” Vinnie yelled from his inner office. “Why haven’t you grabbed Uncle Sunny? He’s a big bond. He killed a guy, for crissake. What the hell are you waiting for? Put the freakin’ donut down and go to work. You think I pay you to sit around eating donuts?”

  “You keep talking like that and I’m gonna come in your office and sit on you and squish you into nothing but a ugly grease spot,” Lula said.

  The door to Vinnie’s office slammed closed and the bolt thunked into place.

  “He’s not having a good morning,” Connie said. “We’re running in the red, and Harry is unhappy.”

  Harry the Hammer owns the bonds office. He also happens to be Vinnie’s father-in-law. Legend has it Harry got his name when he was a mob enforcer and persuaded customers to meet their financial obligations on time by hammering nails into their various body parts. I assume this was back in the days before pneumatic nail guns became the tool of choice for carpenters and wis
eguys.

  I took the two new files from Connie and stuffed them into my messenger bag.

  “We did a four-hour stakeout on Uncle Sunny last night,” I said to Connie. “The only thing that came of it was a new handbag for Lula.”

  “Jimmy Spit was selling Brahmins and he gave me a good price,” Lula said to Connie. “I always wanted a Brahmin, and this is from their new designer Atelier line. This here’s a pricey handbag.”

  Lula hung the handbag from her shoulder and modeled it for Connie.

  “I’ve never seen a Brahmin bag with rhinestones,” Connie said.

  “That’s on account of these are crystals and they’re going in a new direction,” Lula said. “You can tell it’s a Brahmin by the little silver nameplate on it says ‘Brahmin.’ ”

  Connie looked at the nameplate. “It doesn’t say ‘Brahmin.’ It says ‘Brakmin.’ ”

  “Hunh,” Lula said, glancing down at the bag. “Must be a misspelling. Things like that happen, and it don’t matter anyways, because it’s a excellent bag, and it goes with my shoes.”

  “Maybe you need to talk to Uncle Sunny’s neighbors,” Connie said to me. “And his relatives. Isn’t he related to Morelli?”

  “He’s Joe’s godfather,” I told her. “And he’s Grandma Bella’s nephew.”

  “Oops,” Connie said. “That could be sticky.”

  Joe’s Grandma Bella emigrated from Sicily a lot of years ago, but she still speaks with a heavy accent, she still dresses in black like an extra in The Godfather, and she puts curses on people who she feels have disrespected her. Probably the curses aren’t real and people get boils and have their hair fall out purely by coincidence, still the woman scares the bejeezus out of me.

  “It’s not just Bella,” I said. “Everyone loves Uncle Sunny. No one will rat on him.”

  “Worse than that,” Lula said. “We asked at the Tip Top Deli if they knew where he was hiding, and they told us we should be ashamed to be going after Uncle Sunny. And then they wouldn’t serve us lunch. And they told us never to come back. And that don’t make me happy since I formerly considered their egg salad to be a important feature in my diet.”

  “I don’t suppose you heard anything on the police band about a giraffe galloping down Sixteenth Street last night?” I asked Connie.

 
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