To the Nines

By: Janet Evanovich

ONE





MY NAME IS Stephanie Plum and I was born and raised in the Chambersburg section of Trenton, where the top male activities are scarfing pastries and pork rinds and growing love handles. The pastry and pork rind scarfing I’ve seen firsthand. The love handle growing happens over time. Thank God for small favors.

The first guy I saw up close and personal was Joe Morelli. Morelli put an end to my virgin status and showed me a body that was masculine perfection . . . smooth and muscular and sexy. Back then Morelli thought a long-term commitment was twenty minutes. I was one of thousands who got to admire Morelli’s best parts as he pulled his pants up and headed for the door.

Morelli’s been in and out of my life since then. He’s currently in and he’s improved with age, butt included.

So the sight of a naked ass isn’t exactly new to me, but the one I was presently watching took the cake. Punky Balog had an ass like Winnie the Pooh . . . big and fat and furry. Sad to say, that was where the similarity ended because, unlike Pooh Bear, there was nothing endearing or cuddly about Punky Balog.

I knew about Punky’s ass because I was in my new sunshine yellow Ford Escape, sitting across from Punky’s dilapidated row house, and Punky had his huge Pooh butt plastered against his second-story window. My sometime partner, Lula, was riding shotgun for me and Lula and I were staring up at the butt in open-mouthed horror.

Punky slid his butt side to side on the pane and Lula and I gave a collective, upper lip curled back eeyeuuw!

“Think he knows we’re out here,” Lula said. “Think maybe he’s trying to tell us something.”

Lula and I work for my bail bonds agent cousin, Vincent Plum. Vinnie’s office is on Hamilton Avenue, his big plate-glass front window looking into the Burg. He’s not the world’s best bonds agent. And he’s not the worst. Truth is, he’d probably be a better bondsman if he wasn’t saddled with Lula and me. I do fugitive apprehension for Vinnie and I have a lot more luck than skill. Lula mostly does filing. Lula hasn’t got luck or skill. The thing Lula has going for her is the ability to tolerate Vinnie. Lula’s a plus-size black woman in a size-seven white world and Lula’s had a lot of practice at pulling attitude.

Punky turned and gave us a wave with his johnson.

“That’s just so sad,” Lula said. “What do men think of? If you had a lumpy little wanger like that, would you go waving it in public?”

Punky was dancing now, jumping around, wanger flopping, doodles bouncing.

“Holy crap,” Lula said. “He’s gonna rupture something.”

“It’s gotta be uncomfortable.”

“I’m glad we forgot the binoculars. I wouldn’t want to see this up close.”

I didn’t even want to see it from a distance.

“When I was a ho I used to keep myself from getting grossed out by pretending men’s privates were Muppets,” Lula said. “This guy looks like an anteater Muppet. See the little tuft of hair on the anteater head and then there’s the thing the anteater snuffs up ants with . . . except ol’ Punky here’s gotta get real close to the ants on account of his snuffer isn’t real big. Punky’s got a pinky.”

Lula was a ho in a previous life. One night while plying her trade she had a near-death experience and decided to change everything but her wardrobe. Not even a near-death experience could get Lula out of spandex. She was currently wearing a skintight hot pink miniskirt and a tiger-print top that made her boobs look like big round overinflated balloons. It was early June and midmorning and the Jersey air wasn’t cooking yet, so Lula had a yellow angora sweater over the tiger top.

“Hold on,” Lula said. “I think his snuffer is growing.”

This produced another eeyeuuw from us.

“Maybe I should shoot him,” Lula said.

“No shooting!” I felt the need to discourage Lula from hauling out her Glock, but truth was, it seemed like it’d be a public service to take a potshot at Punky.

“How bad do we want this guy?” Lula asked.

“If I don’t bring him in, I don’t get paid. If I don’t get paid, I don’t have rent money. If I don’t have rent money, I get kicked out of my apartment and have to move in with my parents.”