Smokin' Seventeen:A Stephanie Plum Novel(7)

By: Janet Evanovich

Lula leaned back in her chair. “Hold the phone. This guy has fake fangs?”

“They used to be real,” Grandma said, “but a couple years ago Joe’s granny, Bella, gave Ziggy the eye, and all his teeth fell out. So Ziggy went to Horace Worly—a dentist on Hamilton Avenue just down from the hospital. Anyways, Horace made Ziggy some new choppers that looked just like his old ones.”

I looked over at my mother. “Is that true?”

My mother sighed and continued to iron.

“I heard they found Lou Dugan,” Grandma said. “Who would have thought he’d be planted right there on Hamilton Avenue.”

“We saw him,” Lula said. “It was like he was trying to climb out of his grave with his hand sticking up outta the dirt.”

Grandma sucked in air. “You saw him? What did he look like?”

“He was all wormy and raggety.”

“They’re gonna have to work like the devil to make him look like anything for the viewing,” Grandma said.

“Yeah.” Lula added cream to her coffee. “We might never even have known it was him except for his ring.”

Grandma leaned forward. “He was wearing his ring? That ring was worth money. What numbskull would bury Lou Dugan with his ring still on?”

Lula cut a second piece of coffee cake. “That’s what I said. It would have to be someone in a panic. Some amateur.”

Or someone sending a message, I thought. It looked to me like the grave had been fairly shallow. Maybe Lou Dugan was supposed to be discovered.

“It sure is cozy here in the kitchen,” Lula said. “I bet if I stayed here long enough I could forget all about Lou Dugan and his wormy hand.”

My parents’ house is small and stuffed with comfortable, slightly worn furniture. The windows are draped in white sheers. The polished mahogany end tables hold lamps and candy dishes. An orange, brown, and cream hand-crocheted afghan is precisely folded and arranged over the back of the champagne-colored couch. My father’s favorite chair has maroon and gold stripes and an impression of his ass permanently imprinted in the seat cushion. The couch and the chair face a newly purchased flat-screen television, and the television fits into a newly purchased mahogany entertainment center. Coasters and magazines are neatly arranged on the narrow coffee table. A laundry basket filled with toys has been placed against the wall in the living room. The toys belong to my sister’s kids.

The living room leads into the dining room. The dining room table seats six, but can be enlarged to accommodate more. My mother keeps the table covered with a tablecloth. Usually rose or gold. And she places a lace cloth over the colored cloth. It’s been this way for as long as I can remember.

The dining room is separated from the kitchen by a door that’s always open. Just as my father lives in his maroon-striped chair, my mother and grandmother live in the kitchen. When dinner is being prepared and potatoes are boiling, the kitchen is hot and humid, smelling like gravy and apple pie. This morning the kitchen smelled like freshly ironed clothes and coffee. And Lula had added a hint of fried chicken scent.

“I hear Dave Brewer just moved back to Trenton,” my mother said to me. “Do you remember Dave? You went to school with him.”

Dave Brewer had been a big deal football player and entirely out of my league when I was in high school. He went on to college, married, and moved to Atlanta. Last I heard he was being investigated for illegal foreclosures in the state of Georgia.

“I thought he was going to jail for swindling people out of their houses,” I said to my mother.

“He beat that rap,” Grandma said. “But Marion Kolakowski said he got fired and lost his big house in Atlanta. And then his wife left him and took the dog and the Mercedes.”

My mother ironed a nonexistent wrinkle out of my father’s slacks. “Dave’s mother was at mass yesterday. She said it was all a mistake—that Dave didn’t do anything wrong.”

Lula took a third piece of coffee cake. “He must have done something wrong if his wife took the dog and the car. That’s harsh.”

“He comes from a good family, and he was captain of the football team and an honor student,” my mother said.