Smokin' Seventeen:A Stephanie Plum Novel(2)

By: Janet Evanovich


“Actually, I was here first,” I said to Bella, “but you can go ahead of me if you want.”

“What? You telling me you first? You dare to say such a thing?” Bella hit me on the arm with her purse. “You have no respect.”

“Cripes,” I said. “Get a grip.”

“Christ? You say Christ?” Bella crossed herself and pulled her rosary beads out of her pocket. “You burn in hell. You gonna get smite down. Get away from me. I don’t want to be near when it happens.”

“I didn’t say Christ. I said cripes.”

“You heathen,” Bella said. “Like your Grandma Edna. She should rot in hell.”

Okay, so Bella was a crazy old lady, but that was going too far. “Hey, watch what you say about my grandmother,” I said to Bella.

Bella shook her finger at me. “I put the eye on you. I fix you good.”

Loretta sucked in air and ducked down behind the counter.

“I’m going to tell Joe on you,” I said to Bella. “You’re not supposed to be giving people the eye.”

Bella tipped her head back and looked down her nose at me. “You think he believe you over his grandma? You think he believe you when you ugly with boils? You think he believe you when you fat? When you stink like cabbage?”

Loretta whimpered from behind the counter.

“Stay down,” Bella said to Loretta. “You good girl. I don’t want you to get in the way of the eye.”

So here’s the thing with the eye. I’m pretty sure it’s a bunch of baloney. Still, there’s the outside chance that Junior Genovisi didn’t lose his hair from male pattern baldness. I mean no one else in his family ever went bald, and it happened right after Bella put the whammy on him. Then there was Rose DeMarco. She accidentally mowed Bella over with her motorized wheelchair, and the next day Rose broke out with shingles.

Loretta popped up, stuffed a bunch of doughnuts into the bakery box, and threw it at me. “Run for it!”

I caught the box and looked over at Loretta. “How many are in here? What do I owe you?”

“Nothing. Just get out of here!”

“Hah, too late for her,” Bella said to Loretta. “She got the eye now. I’ll take an almond coffee cake. I want the one in front with the most icing.”

• • •

Under normal circumstances, at this time of day I would head for the bail bonds office on Hamilton. Unfortunately the bonds office burned down to the ground not so long ago, so for the moment we’re operating out of a motor home owned by a guy named Mooner. I’ve known Mooner for a bunch of years, and he wouldn’t be my first choice for landlord, but desperate times call for desperate measures. My cousin Vinnie needed to find a place with cheap rent, and Mooner needed gas and burrito money. Voilà! A mobile bail bonds office. Problem is I never know exactly where the office is parked.

I drove down Hamilton and cruised past the lot that had been the site of the original office. Mooner’s bus was there. There was a construction trailer parked at the curb behind Mooner’s bus, the charred rubble had been carted away, and there were stakes stuck into the dirt. Vincent Plum Bail Bonds was in rebuilding mode.

It was Monday morning and business as usual, except today there were two cop cars, Joe Morelli’s green SUV, and the medical examiner’s meat wagon parked at odd angles around the construction trailer and Mooner’s bus. Four uniformed cops, Morelli, the M.E., my cousin Vinnie, the bail bonds office manager, Connie Rosolli, and Mooner were all standing in front of a small backhoe, looking into a shallow pit.

I’ve known Morelli all my life, and he’s one of those men who gets better with age. He was a handsome, reckless, heart-breaker in high school. He’s even more handsome now that his face shows some character and maturity. He’s lean and muscular with black hair waving over the top of his ears and along the nape of his neck. His brown eyes are sharp and assessing when he’s working. They soften when he’s aroused. He’s a Trenton plainclothes cop, and he was wearing jeans and boots and a blue buttoned-down shirt with his gun clipped to his belt. This was in sharp contrast to my cousin Vinnie, who is four inches shorter than Morelli and looks like a weasel with slicked-back hair and pointy-toed shoes.