Seven up, p.8
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       Seven Up, p.8
 

         Part #7 of Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich  

  Joe didn't look nearly as happy as the Mooner. Joe had plans for the evening. There'd been that remark at the table about me owing him doggy sex. Probably he'd been teasing. But then, maybe not. Hard to tell with men. Maybe it was best to go with the Mooner.

  I sent Joe a shrug that said, Hey, what's a girl to do?

  “Okay,” Joe said, “let's lock up and get out of here. You take the Mooner and I'll take Bob.”

  MOONER AND I stood in the hall in front of my apartment. Mooner had a small duffel bag with him that I assumed contained a change of clothes and a full range of drugs.

  “Okay,” I said, “here's the thing. You're welcome to stay here, but you can't do drugs.”

  “Dude,” Mooner said.

  “Are there any drugs in the bag?”

  “Hey, what do I look like?”

  “You look like a stoner.”

  “Well, yeah, but that's because you know me.”

  “Empty the bag on the floor.”

  Mooner dumped the contents of the bag on the floor. I put Mooner's clothes back in the bag, and I confiscated everything else. Pipes and papers and an assortment of controlled substances. I let us into my apartment, flushed the contents of the plasticene bags, and tossed the hardware in the trash.

  “No drugs as long as you live here,” I said.

  “Hey, that's cool,” Mooner said. “The Mooner doesn't actually need drugs. The Mooner is a recreational user.”

  Uh-huh.

  I gave Mooner a pillow and a quilt, and I went to bed. At 4:00 A.M. I woke up to the television blaring in the living room. I shuffled out in my T-shirt and flannel boxers and squinted at Mooner.

  “What's going on? Don't you sleep?”

  “I usually sleep like a rock. I don't know the deal here. I think it's all like, too much. I'm feeling bummed, man. You know what I'm saying? Edgy.”

  “Yeah. Sounds to me like you need a joint.”

  “It's medicinal, dude. In California you can get pot by prescription.”

  “Forget it.” I went back to my bedroom, closed and locked the door, and put the pillow over my head.

  THE NEXT TIME I straggled out it was seven, Mooner was asleep on the floor, and Saturday morning cartoons were on. I got the coffee machine started, gave Rex some fresh water and food, and dropped a slice of bread into my brand-new toaster. The smell of coffee brewing got Mooner to his feet.

  “Yo,” he said, “what's for breakfast?”

  “Toast and coffee.”

  “Your grandmother would have made me pancakes.”

  “My grandmother isn't here.”

  “You're just trying to make it hard on me, man. Probably you've been scarfing down doughnuts and all I'm allowed to eat is toast. I'm talking about my rights, here.” He wasn't exactly yelling, but he wasn't talking softly, either. “I'm a human being and I've got rights.”

  “What rights are you talking about? The right to have pancakes? The right to have doughnuts?”

  “I don't remember.”

  Oh boy.

  He flopped down on the couch. “This apartment is depressing. It makes me, like, nervous. How can you stand to live here?”

  “Do you want coffee, or what?”

  “Yes! I want coffee and I want it now.” His voice ratcheted up a notch. Definitely yelling now. “You can't expect me to wait forever for coffee!”

  I slammed a mug down on the kitchen counter, slopped some coffee in it, and shoved it at Mooner. Then I dialed Morelli.

  “I need drugs,” I said to Morelli. “You have to get me some drugs.”

  “You mean like antibiotic?”

  “No. Like marijuana. I flushed all Mooner's drugs down the toilet last night, and now I hate him. He's completely PMS.”

  “I thought the plan was to dry him out.”

  “It isn't worth it. I like him better when he's high.”

  “Hang in there,” Morelli said. And he hung up.

  “This is like bogus coffee, dude,” Mooner said. “I need a latte.”

  “Fine! Let's go get a damn latte.” I grabbed my bag and keys and shoved Mooner out the door.

  “Hey, I need shoes, man,” Mooner said.

  I performed an exaggerated eye roll and sighed really loudly while Mooner grumped back into the apartment to get his shoes. Great. I wasn't even strung out and now I was PMSing, too.

  Stephanie Plum 7 - Seven Up

  5

  SITTING IN A coffeehouse leisurely sipping a latte wasn't on my morning schedule, so I opted for the McDonald's drive-through, where the breakfast menu listed french vanilla lattes and pancakes. They weren't Grandma-caliber pancakes, but they weren't bad, either, and they were easier to come by.

  The sky was overcast, threatening rain. No surprise there. Rain is de rigueur for Jersey in April. Steady, gray drizzle that encourages statewide bad hair and couch potato mentality. In school they used to teach us April showers bring May flowers. April showers also bring twelve-car pileups on the Jersey Turnpike and swollen, snot-clogged sinuses. The upside to this is that we frequently have reason to shop for new cars in Jersey, and we're recognized worldwide for our distinctive nasal version of the English language.

  “So how's your head?” I asked Mooner on the way home.

  “Filled with latte. My head is mellow, dude.”

  “No, I mean how are the twelve stitches you have in your head?”

  Mooner felt along the Band-Aid. “Feels okay.” He sat for a moment with his lips slightly parted and his eyes searching the back recesses of his mind, and then a light flicked on. “Oh yeah,” he said. “I was shot by the scary old lady.”

  That's the good part about smoking pot all your life . . . no short-term memory. Something horrible happens to you and ten minutes later you can't remember a thing.

  Of course, that's also the bad part about smoking pot, because when disaster strikes, like your friend goes missing, there's the possibility that important messages and events are lost in the haze. And there's the possibility that you could hallucinate a face in the window when the shot was actually fired by a passing car.

  In the case of the Mooner, the possibility was a good probability.

  I drove past Dougie's house to make sure it hadn't burned down while we slept.

  “Everything looks okay,” I said.

  “Looks lonely,” Mooner said.

  WHEN WE GOT back to my apartment Ziggy Garvey and Benny Colucci were in the kitchen. They each had a mug of coffee and a piece of toast.

  “Hope you don't mind,” Ziggy said. “We were curious about your new toaster.”

  Benny gestured with his toast. “This is excellent toast. See how evenly brown it is. Not burned on the edges at all. And it's crisp throughout.”

  “You should get some jelly,” Ziggy said. “Some strawberry jelly would be good on this toast.”

  “You broke into my apartment again! I hate when you do that.”

  “You weren't home,” Ziggy said. “We didn't want it to look like you had men loitering in your hall.”

  “Yeah, we didn't want to sully your good name,” Benny said. “We didn't think you were that kind of girl. Although there's been a lot of rumors throughout the years about you and Joe Morelli. You should be careful of him. He has a very bad reputation.”

  “Hey, look,” Ziggy said. “It's the little fruit. Where's your uniform, kid?”

  “Yeah, and what's with the Band-Aid? You fall off your high heels?” Benny asked.

  Ziggy and Benny elbowed each other and laughed as if this were some great inside joke.

  An idea skittered through my head. “You guys wouldn't happen to know anything about the need for the Band-Aid, would you?”

  “Not me,” Benny said. “Ziggy, you know anything about that?”

  “I don't know nothing about it,” Ziggy said.

  I leaned back against the kitchen counter and crossed my arms. “So what are you doing here?”

  “We thought we should check in,” Ziggy said. “It's been a
while since we talked, and we wanted to see if anything new turned up.”

  “It's been less than twenty-four hours,” I said.

  “Yeah, that's what we said. It's been a while.”

  “Nothing's turned up.”

  “Gee, that's too bad,” Benny said. “You come so recommended. We had high hopes you could help us.”

  Ziggy finished his coffee, rinsed the mug in the sink, and set it on the dish drain. “We should be going now.”

  “Pig,” Mooner said.

  Ziggy and Benny paused at the door.

  “That's a rude thing to say,” Ziggy said. “We're gonna overlook it because you're Miss Plum's friend.” He looked to Benny for backup.

  “That's right,” Benny said. “We're gonna overlook it, but you should learn some manners. It's not right to talk to old gentlemen like that.”

  “You called me a fruit!” Mooner yelled.

  Ziggy and Benny looked at each other, perplexed.

  “Yeah?” Ziggy said. “So?”

  “Next time feel free to loiter in the hall,” I said. I closed and locked the door behind Ziggy and Benny. “I want you to think,” I said to the Mooner. “Do you have any idea why someone shot at you? Are you sure about the woman's face in your window?”

  “I don't know, man. I'm having a hard time thinking. My mind is like, busy.”

  “How about strange phone calls?”

  “There was just one, but it wasn't all that strange. A woman called up while I was at Dougie's and said she thought I had something that wasn't mine. And I was like, well, yeah.”

  “Did she say anything else?”

  “No. I asked her if she wanted a toaster or a Super Dude Suit, and she hung up.”

  “Is that all the inventory you've got left? What happened to the cigarettes?”

  “Got rid of the cigarettes. I know this real heavy smoker . . .”

  It was as if Mooner had been caught in a time warp. I had memories of him in high school, looking exactly like this. Long, thin brown hair, parted in the middle and tied back into a ponytail. Pale skin, slim build, average height. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and jeans that probably had been delivered to Dougie's house under cover of darkness. He'd floated through high school in a grass-induced fog of mellow well-being, talking and giggling through lunch, nodding off in English class. And here he was . . . still floating through life. No job. No responsibility. Now that I thought about it, it sounded pretty good.

  Connie usually worked mornings on Saturday. I phoned the office and waited while she got off a call.

  “That was my Aunt Flo on the line,” she said. “Remember I told you there was trouble in Richmond when DeChooch was down there? She thinks it's related to Louie D buying the farm.”

  “Louie D. He's a businessman, right?”

  “He's a real big businessman. Or at least he was. He died of a heart attack while DeChooch was making his pickup.”

  “Maybe it was a bullet that caused the heart attack.”

  “I don't think so. If Louie D was whacked we would have heard. That kind of news travels. Especially since his sister lives here.”

  “Who's his sister? Do I know her?”

  “Estelle Colucci. Benny Colucci's wife.”

  Holy shit. “Small world.”

  I hung up and my mother called.

  “We need to pick out a gown for the wedding,” she said.

  “I'm not wearing a gown.”

  “You should at least look.”

  “Okay, I'll look.” Not.

  “When?”

  “I don't know. I'm busy right now. I'm working.”

  “It's Saturday,” my mother said. “What kind of a person works on Saturday? You need to relax more. Your grandmother and I will be right over.”

  “No!” Too late. She was gone.

  “We have to get out of here,” I said to Mooner. “It's an emergency. We have to leave.”

  “What kind of an emergency? I'm not going to get shot again, am I?”

  I took the dirty dishes off the counter and threw them into the dishwasher. Then I grabbed Mooner's quilt and pillow and ran into the bedroom with them. My grandmother lived with me for a short while and I was pretty sure she still had a key to my apartment. God forbid my mother would let herself into my apartment and find it a wreck. The bed was unmade, but I didn't want to take time to make it. I gathered up stray clothes and towels and threw it all in the hamper. I barreled through the living room, back to the kitchen, grabbed my bag and my jacket, and yelled at Mooner to get moving.

  We met my mother and grandmother in the lobby.

  Damn!

  “You didn't have to wait for us in the lobby,” my mother said. “We would have come up.”

  “I'm not waiting for you,” I said. “I'm on my way out. I'm sorry, but I have to work this morning.”

  “What are you doing?” Grandma wanted to know. “Are you tracking down some insane killer?”

  “I'm looking for Eddie DeChooch.”

  “I was half right,” Grandma said.

  “You can find Eddie DeChooch some other time,” my mother said. “I have an appointment for you at Tina's Bridal Shoppe.”

  “Yeah, you better take it,” Grandma said. “We only got this one on account of there was a last-minute cancellation. And besides, we needed an excuse to get out of the house because we couldn't stand any more galloping and whinnying.”

  “I don't want a wedding gown,” I said. “I want a small wedding.” Or none at all.

  “Yes, but it doesn't do any harm to look,” my mother said.

  “Tina's Bridal Shoppe rocks,” Mooner said.

  My mother turned to Mooner. “Is this Walter Dunphy? My goodness, I haven't seen you in ages.”

  “Dude!” Mooner said to my mother.

  Then he and Grandma Mazur did one of those complicated handshakes I could never remember.

  “We better get a move on,” Grandma said. “We don't want to be late.”

  “I don't want a gown!”

  “We're just looking,” my mother said. “We'll only spend a half hour looking, and then you can be on your way.”

  “Fine! A half hour. That's it. No more. And we're just looking.”

  TINA'S BRIDAL SHOPPE is in the heart of the Burg. It occupies half of a red-brick duplex. Tina lives in a small apartment upstairs and conducts business in the bottom half of the house. The other half of the duplex is rental property owned by Tina. Tina is known far and wide as being a bitch of a landlady, and the tenants of the rental almost always leave when their year's lease expires. Because rental properties are scarce as hen's teeth in the Burg, Tina never has a problem finding hapless victims.

  “It's you,” Tina said, standing back, eyeballing me. “It's perfect. It's stunning.”

  I was all decked out in a floor-length satin gown. The bodice had been pinned to fit, the scoop neckline showed just a hint of cleavage, and the full bell skirt had a four-foot train.

  “It is lovely,” my mother said.

  “Next time I get married I might get myself a dress just like that,” Grandma said. “Or I might go to Vegas and get married in one of them Elvis churches.”

  “Dude,” Mooner said, “go for it.”

  I twisted slightly to better see myself in the three-way mirror. “You don't think it's too . . . white?”

  “Definitely not,” Tina said. “This is cream. Cream is very different from white.”

  I did look good in the gown. I looked like Scarlett O'Hara getting ready for a big wedding at Tara. I moved around a little to simulate dancing.

  “Jump up and down so we can see how it'll look when you do the bunny hop,” Grandma said.

  “It's pretty, but I don't want a gown,” I said.

  “I can order one in her size at no obligation,” Tina said.

  “No obligation,” Grandma said. “You can't beat that.”

  “As long as there's no obligation,” my mother said.

  I needed chocolate. A lot of cho
colate. “Oh gee,” I said, “look at the time. I have to go.”

  “Cool,” Mooner said. “Are we going to fight crime now? I've been thinking I need a utility belt for my Super Suit. I could put all my crime-fighting gear in it.”

 
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