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One for the money, p.19
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       One for the Money, p.19

         Part #1 of Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich
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  Morelli grimaced. “I'll be under the bed if you need me.”

  I went to the door and took a look for myself. I'd never seen Morty Beyers before, but this guy looked like he'd just had an appendectomy. He was close to forty, overweight, ashen-faced, and he was stooped over, holding his stomach. His sandy hair was thin, combed over the top of his balding dome, and slick with sweat.

  I opened the door to him.

  “Morty Beyers,” he said, extending his hand. “You must be Stephanie Plum.”

  “Aren't you supposed to be in the hospital?”

  “An exploded appendix only gets you a couple hours' stay. I'm back to work. They tell me I'm good as new.”

  He didn't look good as new. He looked like he had met Vampira on the stairs. “Your stomach still hurt?”

  “Only when I straighten up.”

  “What can I do for you?”

  “Vinnie said you had my FTAs. I thought now that I was feeling okay . . .”

  “You want the paperwork back.”

  “Yeah. Listen, I'm sorry it didn't work out for you.”

  “It wasn't a complete bust. I brought two of them in.”

  He nodded. “Didn't have any luck with Morelli?”

  “None at all.”

  “I know this sounds weird, but I could've sworn I saw his car in your parking lot.”

  “I stole it. I thought maybe I could flush him out by making him come after his car.”

  “You stole it? No shit? Jesus, that's great.” He was leaning against the wall with his hand pressed to his groin.

  “You want to sit down for a minute? You want some water?”

  “Nah, I'm fine. I gotta get to work. I just wanted the pictures and stuff.”

  I ran to the kitchen, gathered up the files, and rushed back to the door. “This is it.”

  “Great.” He tucked the folders under an arm. “So are you gonna keep the car a while?”

  “I'm not sure.”

  “If you spotted Morelli walking down the street, would you bring him in?”

  “Yeah.”

  He smiled. “If I was you, I'd do the same thing. I wouldn't pack it in just because my week was up. Just between you and me, Vinnie would pay out to anyone brought Morelli back. Well, I'll be on my way. Thanks.”

  “Take care of yourself.”

  “Yeah. I'm gonna use the elevator.”

  I closed the door, slid the bolt home, and latched the security chain. When I turned around, Morelli was standing in the bedroom doorway. “Do you think he knew you were here?” I asked.

  “If he knew I was here, he'd have his gun aimed at my forehead by now. Don't underestimate Beyers. He's not as stupid as he looks. And he's not nearly as nice as he'd like you to believe. He was a cop. Got kicked off the force for demanding favors from prostitutes of both genders. We used to call him Morty the Mole because he'd bury his doodah in whatever hole was available.”

  “I bet he and Vinnie get along just great.”

  I went to the window and stared down at the parking lot. Beyers was examining Morelli's car, peering into the windows. He tried the door handle and the trunk latch. He wrote something on the outside of a folder. He straightened slightly and looked around the lot. His attention caught on the van. He slowly walked over and pressed his nose against the windows in an attempt to see the interior; then he laboriously climbed on the front bumper and tried to see through the windshield. He stepped back and stared at the antennae. He stood to the rear and copied the tag. He turned and looked up at my building, and I jumped back from the window.

  Five minutes later, there was another knock on my door.

  “I was wondering about that van in your lot,” Beyers said. “Have you noticed it?”

  “The blue one with the antennae?”

  “Yeah. Do you know the owner?”

  “No, but it's been here for a while.”

  I closed and locked the door and watched Beyers through the peephole. He stood thinking for a moment, and then he knocked on Mr. Wolesky's door. He showed Morelli's picture and asked a few questions. He thanked Mr. Wolesky, gave him his card, and backed away.

  I returned to the window, but Beyers didn't appear in the lot. “He's going door-to-door,” I said.

  We continued to watch from the window, and eventually Beyers limped to his car. He drove a late-model dark blue Ford Escort equipped with a car phone. He left the lot and turned toward St. James.

  Morelli was in the kitchen with his head in my refrigerator. “Beyers is going to be a real pain in the ass. He's going to check on the van plates and put it together.”

  “What's this going to do for you?”

  “It's going to knock me out of Trenton until I get a different vehicle.” He took a carton of orange juice and a loaf of raisin bread. “Put this on my tab. I've got to get out of here.” He stopped at the door. “I'm afraid you're going to be on your own for awhile. Stay locked up in the apartment here, don't let anyone in, and you should be okay. The alternative is to come with me, but if we get caught together, you'll be an accessory.”

  “I'll stay here. I'll be fine.”

  “Promise me you won't go out.”

  “I promise! I promise!”

  Some promises are meant to be broken. This was one of them. I had no intention of sitting on my hands, waiting for Ramirez. I wanted to hear from him yesterday. I wanted the whole ugly affair to be done. I wanted Ramirez behind bars. I wanted my apprehension money. I wanted to get on with my life.

  I looked out the window to make sure Morelli was gone. I got my pocketbook and locked up after myself. I drove to Stark Street and parked across from the gym. I didn't have the nerve to move freely on the street without Morelli backing me up, so I stayed in the car with the windows closed and the doors locked. I was sure by this time Ramirez knew my car. I figured it was better than no reminder at all.

  Every half hour I ran the air-conditioning to get the temperature down and break the monotony. Several times I'd looked up at Jimmy Alpha's office and seen a face at a window. The gym windows showed less activity.

  At twelve-thirty Alpha trotted across the street and knocked on my window.

  I powered it down. “Sorry to have to park here, Jimmy, but I need to continue my surveillance for Morelli. I'm sure you understand.”

  A wrinkle creased his brow. “I don't get it. If I was looking for Morelli, I'd watch his relatives and his friends. What's this thing with Stark Street and Carmen Sanchez?”

  “I have a theory about what happened. I think Benito abused Carmen just like he abused Lula. Then I think he panicked and sent Ziggy and some other guy over to Carmen's to make sure she didn't make noise. I think Morelli walked in on it and probably shot Ziggy in self-defense just like he said. Somehow Carmen and the other guy and Ziggy's gun managed to disappear. I think Morelli's trying to find them. And I think Stark Street is the logical place to look.”

  “That's crazy. How'd you come up with such a crazy idea?”

  “From Morelli's arrest statement.”

  Alpha looked disgusted. “Well what'd you expect Morelli to say? That he shot Ziggy for the hell of it? Benito's an easy target. He has a reputation for being a little too aggressive with the ladies, and Ziggy worked for him, so Morelli took it from there.”

  “How about the missing witness? He must have worked for Benito, too.”

  “I don't know anything about the missing witness.”

  “People tell me he had a nose that looked like it had been smashed with a frying pan. That's pretty distinctive.”

  Alpha smiled. “Not in a third-rate gym. Half the bums who work out here have noses like that.” He looked at his watch. “I'm late for a lunch. You look hot in there. You want me to bring something back for you? A cold soda? A sandwich, maybe?”

  “I'm okay. I think I'm going to break for lunch soon, too. Have to use the little girl's room.”

  “There's a john on the second floor. Just get the key from Lorna. Tell her I said it was okay.”<
br />
  I thought it was decent of Alpha to offer the use of his facilities, but I didn't want to take a chance on Ramirez cornering me while I was on the toilet.

  I took one last look up and down the street and drove off in search of fast food. A half hour later I was back in the very same parking space, feeling much more comfortable and twice as bored. I'd brought a book back with me, but it was hard to read and sweat at the same time, and sweating took precedence.

  By three my hair was wet against my neck and face and had frizzed out to maximum volume. My shirt was plastered to my back, and perspiration stained over my chest. My legs were cramped, and I'd developed a nervous twitch to my left eye.

  I still hadn't seen a sign of Ramirez. Pedestrian traffic was restricted to pockets of shade and had disappeared into smoky air-conditioned bars. I was the only fool sitting baking in a car. Even the hookers had disappeared for a midafternoon crack break.

  I palmed my defense spray and got out of the Cherokee, whimpering as all my little spine bones decompressed and realigned themselves. I stretched and jogged in place. I walked around the car and bent to touch my toes. A breeze trickled down Stark Street, and I felt inordinately blessed. True, the air index was lethal and the temperature hovered at blast-furnace range, but it was a breeze all the same.

  I leaned against the car and pulled the front of my shirt away from my sweaty body.

  Jackie emerged from the Grand Hotel and lumbered down the street toward me, en route to her corner. “You look like heat stroke,” she said, handing me a cold Coke.

  I popped the tab, drank some soda, and held the cold can against my forehead. “Thanks. This is great.”

  “Don't think I'm getting soft on your skinny white ass,” she said. “It's just you're gonna die sitting in that car, and you're gonna give Stark Street a bad name. People gonna say it a race murder, and my white trash pervert business'll get ruined.”

  “I'll try not to die. God forbid I should ruin your pervert business.”

  “Fucking A,” she said. “Them little white perverts pay fine money for my big nasty ass.”

  “How's Lula?”

  Jackie shrugged. “She's doing as good as she can. She appreciated that you sent flowers.”

  “Not much activity here today.”

  Jackie slid her eyes up to the gym windows. “Thank sweet Jesus for that,” she said softly.

  I followed her gaze to the second floor. “You better not be seen talking to me.”

  “Yeah,” she said. “I gotta get back to work, anyway.”

  I stood there for a few minutes longer, enjoying the soda and the luxury of being fully vertical. I turned to get back in the car and gasped at the sight of Ramirez standing next to me.

  “Been waiting all day for you to get out of this car,” he said. “Bet you're surprised at how quiet I move. Didn't even hear me come up on you, did you? That's how it's always gonna be. You're never gonna hear me until I pounce. And then it's gonna be too late.”

  I took a slow breath to quiet my heart. I waited a moment longer to steady my voice. When I felt some control, I asked him about Carmen. “I want to know about Carmen,” I said. “I want to know if she saw you coming.”

  “Carmen and me, we had a date. Carmen asked for what she got.”

  “Where is she now?”

  He shrugged. “Don't know. She split after Ziggy got offed.”

  “What about the guy that was with Ziggy that night? Who was he? What happened to him?”

  “Don't know nothing about that either.”

  “I thought they worked for you.”

  “Why don't we go upstairs and talk about this? Or we could go for a ride. I got a Porsche. I could take you for a ride in my Porsche.”

  “I don't think so.”

  “See, there you go again. Refusing the champ. You're always refusing the champ. He don't like that.”

  “Tell me about Ziggy and his friend . . . the guy with the smashed nose.”

  “Be more interesting to tell you about the champ. How he gonna teach you some respect. How he gonna punish you so you learn not to refuse him.” He stepped closer, and the heat coming off his body made the air feel cool by comparison. “Think maybe I'll make you bleed before I fuck you. You like that? You want to get cut, bitch?”

  That's it. I'm out of here. “You're not going to do anything to me,” I said. “You don't scare me, and you don't excite me.”

  “You lie.” He wrapped his hand around my upper arm and squeezed hard enough to make me cry out.

  I kicked him hard in the shin, and he hit me. I never saw his hand move. The crack rang in my ears and my head snapped back. I tasted blood and blinked hard several times to clear the cobwebs. When most of the stars faded, I shot him square in the face with the Sure Guard.

  He howled in pain and rage and reeled into the street with his hands to his eyes. The howling metamorphosed to choking and gasping, and he went down on all fours like some monstrous animal—a big, pissed-off, wounded buffalo.

  Jimmy Alpha came running from across the street, followed by his secretary and a man I'd never seen before.

  The man went down on the ground with Ramirez, trying to calm him, telling him he'd be okay in a minute, to take deep breaths.

  Alpha and the secretary rushed over to me.

  “Jesus,” Jimmy Alpha said, pressing a clean handkerchief into my hand. “Are you okay? He didn't break anything, did he?”

  I put the handkerchief to my mouth and held it there while I ran my tongue over my teeth to see if any were missing or loose. “I think I'm okay.”

  “I'm really sorry,” Jimmy said. “I don't know what's the matter with him, the way he treats women. I apologize for him. I don't know what to do.”

  I wasn't in the mood to accept an apology. “There are lots of things you can do,” I said. “Get him psychiatric help. Lock him up. Take him to the vet and get him neutered.”

  “I'll pay for a doctor,” Jimmy Alpha said. “Do you want to go to a doctor?”

  “The only place I'm going is to the police station. I'm pressing charges, and nothing you can say is going to stop me.”

  “Think about it for a day,” Jimmy pleaded. “At least wait until you're not so upset. He can't take another assault charge now.”

  Stephanie Plum 1 - One for the Money

  12

  I WRENCHED THE DRIVER'S DOOR OPEN and jammed myself behind the wheel. I eased away from the curb, being careful not to run over anyone. I drove at a moderate speed, and I didn't look back. I stopped for a light and assessed the damage in the rearview mirror. My upper lip was split on the inside and still bleeding. I had a purple bruise forming on my left cheek. My cheek and my lip were beginning to swell.

  I was holding tight to the wheel, and I was using every strength I possessed to stay calm. I drove south on Stark to State Street and followed State to Hamilton. When I reached Hamilton I felt as if I was safe in my own neighborhood and could allow myself to stop and think. I pulled into a convenience store lot and sat there for a while. I needed to go to the police station to report the assault, but I didn't want to leave the security and comfort of home turf, and I wasn't sure how the police would regard this latest incident with Ramirez. He'd threatened me, and then I'd deliberately provoked him by parking across from the gym. Not smart.

  I'd been on adrenaline overdose ever since Ramirez appeared at my side, and now that the adrenaline was slacking out, exhaustion and pain were creeping in. My arm and my jaw ached and my pulse rate felt like it had dropped to twelve.

  Face up, I said to myself, you're not going to make it to the police station today. I shuffled through my shoulder bag until I found Dorsey's card. Might as well keep some continuity and whine to Dorsey. I dialed his number and left a message to call back. I didn't specify the problem. I didn't think I could go through it twice.

  I hauled myself into the store and got myself a grape popsicle. “Hadda akthident,” I said to the clerk. “My lip ith thwollen.”

&nbs
p; “Maybe you should see a doctor.”

  I ripped the paper off the popsicle and put the ice to my lip. “Ahhh.” I sighed. “Thas bedda.”

  I returned to the car, put it into gear, and backed into a pickup truck. My whole life flashed in front of me. I was drowning. Please God, I prayed, don't let there be a dent.

  We both got out and examined our cars. The pickup didn't have a scratch. No dent, no paint chipped, not even a smudge in the wax. The Cherokee looked like someone had taken a can opener to its right rear fender.

 
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