Smokin' Seventeen:A Stephanie Plum Novel(3)

By: Janet Evanovich

I parked behind Morelli’s SUV and joined the group.

“What are we looking at?” I asked Morelli.

“I’m guessing Lou Dugan,” he said.

A half-rotted hand was poking out of the disturbed dirt, and not far from the hand was something that might be part of a skull. I see a lot of bad things in my job, but this was right up there at the top of the Gonna Gork Meter.


“WHY DO YOU THINK it’s Lou Dugan?” the M.E. asked Morelli.

Morelli pointed to the hand. “Pinky ring. Diamonds and rubies. Dugan was at the pancake supper at St. Joaquin’s, told Manny Kruger he was going home, and that was the last anyone saw him.”

Lou Dugan wasn’t without enemies. He ran a topless titty bar downtown, and it was common knowledge that the women went way beyond lap dances. He was a flamboyant pillar of the community, and I’d heard he could be ruthless in his business dealings.

We all looked back at the grisly hand with the pinky ring.

“Okay, run the crime scene tape,” the M.E. said to one of the uniforms. “And get the state lab out here to exhume the body. Someone’s going to have to stay on the scene until the state takes over. I don’t want a screwup.”

“Awesome,” Mooner said. “This is like CSI: Trenton.”

Mooner has shoulder-length brown hair, parted in the middle. He’s slim and built loosey-goosey. He’s my age. He’s a nice guy. And his head is for the most part empty since his brain got fried on drugs in high school and never totally regenerated.

“I’m not paying for special-duty cops,” Vinnie said. “This isn’t my bad. Dugan got himself planted at the back of the lot, under where the garbage cans used to sit. Seems to me that’s city property. This isn’t gonna hold up construction, is it? They were supposed to start pouring foundation this week. I’m renting bogus office space from Scooby Doo here. Every extra day is a fork in my eye.”

Truth is Vinnie wasn’t in a good spot. He was on thin ice with his wife, Lucille, and his father-in-law, Harry the Hammer. Vinnie and Lucille were newly reconciled from a nasty split, and Lucille was keeping her thumb on Vinnie’s doodles. Even worse, at Lucille’s request, Harry had agreed to go back into the bail bonds business and finance Vinnie’s operation. And Harry had his boot on Vinnie’s doodles. So needless to say Vinnie was walking very carefully to avoid intense pain.

A red Firebird pulled in, double-parked next to my car, and Lula got out. Lula is supposed to do filing for the office, but she pretty much does whatever she wants. She was a blond today, her curly yellow hair contrasting nicely with her brown skin and her leopard print, spandex wrap dress. Her 5′ 5″ body is plus size, but Lula enjoys testing the limits of seam and fabric, squishing herself into size 2 petite.

“What’s going on here?” Lula wanted to know, sinking into the dirt in her four-inch Via Spiga stilettos. “This office-in-a-bus is a pain in the behind. I never know where anybody is. And nobody’s answering their cell phone. How the heck am I supposed to work like this?”

“You don’t work anyway,” Vinnie said.

Lula leaned forward, hands on hips. “That’s a disrespectful attitude, and I don’t tolerate no disrespect. I gotta work just to find your stupid office-on-wheels.” Her eyes moved to the pit and locked onto the hand. “What’s that? Are we getting ready for Halloween? This gonna be some kind of scary trick-or-treat place?”

“We’re thinking it’s Lou Dugan,” I said. “The backhoe accidentally dug him up.”

Lula’s eyes about popped out of her head. “Are you shitting me? Lou Dugan? Mr. Titty?”


“That’s disgustin’. Is there something attached to that hand? If there is I don’t want to know about it. Dead people give me the creeps. I might need fried chicken to take my mind off all this now. And anyways, what the heck was Mr. Titty doing under the bonds office?”

“Technically he was under the garbage cans,” Vinnie said.

“Let me get this straight. Some idiot dug a hole instead of throwing the body in the river or the landfill,” Lula said. “And they left the ring on his finger. What’s with that? That ring’s worth something. This here must have been a amateur job.”