Seven up, p.10
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       Seven Up, p.10
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         Part #7 of Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich  
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  “Do I get to keep the twenty?”

  “Yeah, you can keep the twenty.”

  “Do you want a diddle for it?”

  “No!”

  “Jeez. No need to yell. I just didn't want you to feel cheated. I give people their money's worth.”

  “How about the guy you clocked?”

  “He tried to stiff me. You think I'm out there on that corner for my health? I got a mother in assisted living. I don't make the monthly payment and she's living with me.”

  “Would that be so bad?”

  “I'd rather fuck a rhino.”

  I parked in the police lot, reached over to cuff her, and she started waving her hands around.

  “You're not gonna cuff me,” she was saying. “No way.”

  And then somehow with all the hand waving and struggling the automatic door lock got popped and Roseanne jumped out of the car and ran for the street. She had a head start, but she was in heels and I was in cross-trainers, and I caught her after a two-block chase. Neither of us was in good shape. She was wheezing and I felt like I was breathing in fire. I clapped the bracelets on her and she sat down.

  “No sitting,” I said.

  “Tough. I'm not going anywhere.”

  I'd left my bag in the car and the car looked a long way off. If I ran back to the car to get my cell phone Roseanne wouldn't be here when I returned. She was sitting, sulking, and I was standing, fuming.

  Some days it didn't pay to get out of bed.

  I had a really strong urge to give her a good kick in the kidney, but that'd probably leave a bruise and then she might sue Vinnie for bounty hunter brutality. Vinnie hated when that happened.

  It was raining harder and we were both soaked. My hair was stuck to my face, and my Levi's were drenched. The two of us settled in for a standoff. The standoff ended when Eddie Gazarra drove by on his way to lunch. Eddie's a Trenton cop, and he's married to my cousin Shirley-the-Whiner.

  Eddie rolled his window down, shook his head, and made tsch-tsch-tsch sounds.

  “I've got a situation with an FTA,” I said to Eddie.

  Eddie grinned. “No shit.”

  “How about helping me get her into your car.”

  “It's raining! I'll get soaked.”

  I narrowed my eyes at him.

  “It'll cost you,” Gazarra said.

  “I'm not baby-sitting.” His kids were cute, but last time I stayed with them I fell asleep and they cut two inches off my hair.

  He did another tsch. “Hey, Roseanne,” he yelled. “You want a ride?”

  Roseanne got up and looked at him. Deciding.

  “If you get into the car, Stephanie'll give you ten bucks,” Gazarra said.

  “No I won't,” I yelled. “I already gave her twenty.”

  “Did you get a diddle for it?” Gazarra asked.

  “No!”

  He made another tsch.

  “Well,” Roseanne said, “what's it gonna be?”

  I pushed the hair out of my face. “It's going to be a kick in the kidney if you don't get your butt in that cop car.” When up against it . . . try an empty threat.

  Stephanie Plum 7 - Seven Up

  6

  I PARKED IN my lot and slogged up to my apartment, leaving puddles in my wake. Benny and Ziggy were waiting in the hall.

  “We brought you some strawberry preserves,” Benny said. “It's the good kind, too. It's Smucker's.”

  I took the jam and opened my door. “What's up?”

  “We heard you caught Chooch having a snort with Father Carolli.”

  They were smiling, enjoying the moment.

  “That Choochy, he's a pip,” Ziggy said. “Did he really shoot Jesus?”

  I smiled with them. Choochy was indeed a pip. “News travels fast,” I said.

  “We're what you call plugged in,” Ziggy said. “Anyhow, we just want to get it straight from you. How did Choochy look? Was he okay? Was he, you know, crazy?”

  “He took a couple shots at Mooner, but he missed. Carolli said Chooch has been excitable ever since his stroke.”

  “He don't hear so good, either,” Benny said.

  They exchanged glances on that one. No smiles.

  Water was dripping from my Levi's, forming a pool on the kitchen floor. Ziggy and Benny were standing clear of it.

  “Where's the little geeky guy?” Benny asked. “Isn't he hanging out with you anymore?”

  “He had things to do.”

  I PEELED MY clothes off the minute Benny and Ziggy left. Rex was running on his wheel, occasionally pausing to watch me, not understanding the concept of rain. Sometimes he sat under his water bottle and it dripped on his head, but mostly his experience with weather was limited.

  I slipped into a new T-shirt and clean Levi's and blasted my hair with the hair dryer. When I was done I had a lot of volume but not much shape, so I created a distraction by applying bright blue eyeliner.

  I was pulling my boots on when the phone rang.

  “Your sister's on her way over,” my mother said. “She needs someone to talk to.”

  Valerie must really be desperate to choose me to talk to. We like each other okay, but we've never been close. Too many basic personality differences. And when she moved to California we drifted even further apart.

  Funny how things turn out. We all thought Valerie had the perfect marriage.

  The phone rang again and it was Morelli.

  “He's humming,” Morelli said. “When are you going to come get him?”

  “Humming?”

  “Bob and I are trying to watch the game and this yodel won't stop humming.”

  “Maybe he's nervous.”

  “Fuckin' A. He should be nervous. If he doesn't stop humming I'm going to strangle him.”

  “Try feeding him.”

  And I hung up.

  “I wish I knew what everyone is looking for,” I said to Rex. “I know it's tied to Dougie's disappearance.”

  There was a rap on the door and my sister bounced in, looking Doris Day-Meg Ryan perky. Probably perfect for California, but we don't do perky in Jersey.

  “You're awfully perky,” I said. “I don't remember you as being this perky.”

  “I'm not perky . . . I'm cheerful. I am absolutely not crying anymore, ever again. No one likes a Gloomy Gus. I'm going to get on with my life and I'm going to be happy. I'm going to be so goddamn happy Mary Sunshine's going to look like a loser.”

  Yikes.

  “And do you know why I can be happy? I can be happy because I'm well adjusted.”

  Good thing Valerie moved back to Jersey. We'd fix that.

  “So this is your apartment,” she said, looking around. “I've never been here.”

  I looked, too, and I wasn't impressed by what I saw. I have lots of good ideas for my apartment, but somehow I never get around to buying the glass candle holders at Illuminations or the brass fruit bowl at Pottery Barn. My windows have utilitarian shades and drapes. My furniture is relatively new but uninspired. I live in a cookie-cutter, inexpensive seventies apartment that looks exactly like a cookie-cutter, inexpensive seventies apartment. Martha Stewart would have a cow over my apartment.

  “Jeez,” I said, “I'm really sorry about Steve. I didn't know you two were having problems.”

  Valerie flopped onto the couch. “I didn't know, either. He broadsided me. I came home from the gym one day and realized Steve's clothes were gone. Then I found a note on the kitchen counter about how he felt trapped and had to get away. And the next day I got a foreclosure notice on the house.”

  “Wow.”

  “I'm thinking this could be a good thing. I mean, this could open up all sorts of new experiences for me. For instance, I have to get a job.”

  “Any ideas?”

  “I want to be a bounty hunter.”

  I was speechless. Valerie. A bounty hunter.

  “Did you tell Mom?”

  “No. Do you think I should?”

  “No!”

&nb
sp; “The thing about being a bounty hunter is that you make your own hours, right? So I could be home when the girls get out of school. And bounty hunters are kind of tough, and that's what I want the new Valerie to be . . . cheerful but tough.”

  Valerie was wearing a red cardigan sweater from Talbots, designer jeans that had been ironed, and snakeskin loafers.

  Tough seemed like a stretch.

  “I'm not sure you're the bounty hunter type,” I told Valerie.

  “Of course I'm the bounty hunter type,” she said enthusiastically. “I just have to get into the right mind-set.” She sat up straighter on my couch and started singing the rubber tree ant song.

  “He's got hiiiigh hopes . . . hiiiigh hopes!”

  Good thing my gun was in the kitchen, because I had an urge to shoot Valerie. This was taking the cheerful thing way beyond where I wanted to go.

  “Grandma said you were working on a big case and I thought maybe I could help,” Valerie said.

  “I don't know . . . this guy is a killer.”

  “But he's old, right?”

  “Yeah. He's an old killer.”

  “That sounds like a good place to start,” Valerie said, bouncing up off the couch. “Let's go get him.”

  “I don't exactly know where to find him,” I said.

  “He's probably feeding ducks at the lake. That's what old men do. At night they watch television and during the day they feed the ducks.”

  “It's raining. I don't think he'd feed the ducks in the rain.”

  Valerie glanced over at the window. “Good point.”

  There was a sharp rap at the door and then the sound of someone testing the door to see if it was locked. Then there was another rap.

  Morelli, I thought. Returning Mooner.

  I opened the door and Eddie DeChooch stepped into my foyer. He had his gun in his hand, and he looked serious.

  “Where is he?” DeChooch asked. “I know he's living with you. Where is the rat bastard?”

  “Are you talking about Mooner?”

  “I'm talking about the worthless little piece of shit who's screwing around with me. He's got something that belongs to me and I want it back.”

  “How do you know Mooner has it?”

  DeChooch pushed past me and went into my bedroom and bathroom. “His friend don't have it. And I don't have it. The only one left is this Mooner moron.” DeChooch opened closet doors and slammed them shut. “Where is he? I know you've got him locked away some place.”

  I shrugged. “He said he had errands to run and that's the last I've seen of him.”

  He put his gun to Valerie's head. “Who's Miss Cutesy here?”

  “That's my sister Valerie.”

  “Maybe I should shoot her.”

  Valerie looked sideways at the gun. “Is that a real gun?”

  DeChooch moved the gun six inches to the right and squeezed off a shot. The bullet missed my television by a millimeter and lodged in my wall.

  Valerie went white and made a squeaky sound.

  “Cripes, she sounds like a mouse,” DeChooch said.

  “What am I supposed to do about that wall?” I asked him. “You made a big bullet hole in it.”

  “You can show the bullet hole to your friend. You can tell him his head's gonna look like that wall if he doesn't shape up.”

  “Maybe I could help you get this thing back if you'd tell me what it is.”

  DeChooch eased out my front door with the gun pointed at Valerie and me. “Don't follow me,” he said, “or I'll shoot you.”

  Valerie's knees wobbled and she sat down hard on the floor.

  I waited a couple beats before going to the door and looking out, down the hall. I believed DeChooch about the shooting part. When I finally checked the hall DeChooch was nowhere to be seen. I closed and locked my door and ran to the window. My apartment is at the back of the building, and my windows overlook the parking lot. Not especially scenic, but handy for checking out fleeing crazy old men.

  I watched DeChooch leave the building and take off in the white Cadillac. The police were looking for him and I was looking for him and he was riding around in the white Cadillac. Not exactly the stealth felon. So why weren't we able to catch him? I knew the answer on my side. I was inept.

  Valerie was still on the floor, still looking pale.

  “You might want to rethink the bounty hunter thing,” I suggested to Valerie. Maybe I should rethink it, too.

  VALERIE RETURNED TO my parents' house to locate her Valium, and I called Ranger back.

  “I'm going to bail on this case,” I said to Ranger. “I'm going to hand it off to you.”

  “You don't usually bail,” Ranger said. “What's the deal here?”

  “DeChooch is making me look like an idiot.”

  “And?”

  “Dougie Kruper is missing and I think his disappearance is somehow tied to DeChooch. I'm worried that I'm endangering Dougie because I keep screwing up with DeChooch.”

  “Dougie Kruper was probably abducted by aliens.”

  “Do you want to take the case, or what?”

  “I don't want it.”

  “Fine. The hell with you.” I hung up and stuck my tongue out at the phone. I grabbed my bag and my rain jacket and stomped out of my apartment and down the stairs.

  Mrs. DeGuzman was in the lobby. Mrs. DeGuzman is from the Philippines and doesn't speak a word of English.

  “Humiliating,” I said to Mrs. DeGuzman.

  Mrs. DeGuzman smiled and bobbed her head like one of those dogs people put in their car rear window.

  I got into the CR-V and sat there for a moment thinking things like, Prepare to die, DeChooch. And, No more Ms. Nice Guy, this is war. But then I couldn't figure out how to find DeChooch, so I did a quick run to the bakery.

  It was close to five when I got back to my apartment. I opened my door and stifled a shriek. There was a man in my living room. I took another look and realized it was Ranger. He was sitting in a chair, looking relaxed, thoughtfully watching me.

  “You hung up on me,” he said. “Don't ever hang up on me.”

  His voice was quiet, but as always the authority was unmistakable. He was wearing black dress slacks, a long-sleeved lightweight black sweater pushed up on his forearms, and expensive black loafers. His hair was cut very short. I was used to seeing him in SWAT dress with long hair, and I hadn't immediately recognized him. I guess that was the point.

  “Are you in disguise?” I asked.

  He watched me without answering. “What's in the bag?”

  “An emergency cinnamon bun. What are you doing here?”

  “I thought we might make a deal. How bad do you want DeChooch?”

  Oh boy. “What did you have in mind?”

  “You find DeChooch. If you need help bringing him in you call me. If I succeed in the capture, you spend a night with me.”

  My heart stopped beating. Ranger and I had been playing this game for a while now, but it had never been articulated in quite this way.

  “I'm sort of engaged to Morelli,” I said.

  Ranger smiled.

  Shit.

  There was the sound of a key being inserted in my front door lock and the door swung open. Morelli strode in and he and Ranger nodded to each other.

  “Game over?” I asked Morelli.

  Morelli gave me a death look. “The game's over and the baby-sitting is over. And I don't ever want to see this guy again.”

  “Where is he?”

  Morelli turned and looked. No Mooner. “Christ,” Morelli said. He went back to the hall and yanked Mooner into the room by Mooner's jacket collar, the Trenton PD equivalent to a mother cat dragging a demented offspring by the scruff of his neck.

  “Dude,” Mooner said.

  Ranger stood and passed me a card with a name and address written on it. “The owner of the white Cadillac,” he said. He slipped into a black leather jacket and left. Mr. Sociable.

  Morelli deposited Mooner in a chair in front of
the television, pointed his finger at him, and told him to stay.

 
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