Two for the Dough

By: Janet Evanovich

I knew Ranger was beside me because I could see his earring gleaming in the moonlight. Everything else about him—his T-shirt, his flack vest, his slicked-back hair, and 9-mm Glock—was as black as the night. Even his skin tone seemed to darken in shade. Ricardo Carlos Manoso, the Cuban-American chameleon.

I, on the other hand, was the blue-eyed, fair-skinned product of a Hungarian-Italian union   and was not nearly so cleverly camouflaged for clandestine evening activities.

It was late October, and Trenton was enjoying the death throes of Indian summer. Ranger and I were squatting behind a hydrangea bush at the corner of Paterson and Wycliff, and we weren’t enjoying Indian summer, each other’s company, or much of anything else. We’d been squatting there for three hours, and squatting was taking its toll on our good humor.

We were watching the small clapboard Cape Cod at 5023 Paterson, following a tip that Kenny Mancuso was scheduled to visit his girlfriend, Julia Cenetta. Kenny Mancuso had recently been charged with shooting a gas station attendant (who also happened to be his former best friend) in the knee.

Mancuso had posted a bail bond via the Vincent Plum Bonding Company, insuring his release from jail and returning him to the bosom of polite society. After his release he’d promptly disappeared and three days later failed to show face at a preliminary hearing. This did not make Vincent Plum happy.

Since Vincent Plum’s losses were my windfalls, I saw Mancuso’s disappearance from a more opportunistic perspective. Vincent Plum is my cousin and my employer. I work for Vinnie as a bounty hunter, dragging felons who are beyond the long arm of the law back into the system. Dragging Kenny back was going to net me ten percent of his $50,000 bond. A portion of that would go to Ranger for assisting with the takedown, and the rest would pay off my car loan.

Ranger and I had a sort of loose partnership. Ranger was a genuine, cool-ass, numero-uno bounty hunter. I asked him to help me because I was still learning the trade and needed all the help I could get. His participation was in the ballpark of a pity fuck.

“Don’t think this is gonna happen,” Ranger said.

I’d done the intel and was feeling defensive that maybe I’d had my chain yanked. “I spoke to Julia this morning. Explained to her that she could be considered an accessory.”

“And that made her decide to cooperate?”

“Not exactly. She decided to cooperate when I told her how before the shooting Kenny had been sometimes seeing Denise Barkolowski.”

Ranger was smiling in the dark. “You lie about Denise?”

“Yeah.”

“Proud of you, babe.”

I didn’t feel bad about the lie since Kenny was a scumbag felon, and Julia should be setting her sights higher anyway.

“Looks like maybe she thought twice about reaping the rewards of revenge and waved Kenny away. You find out where he’s living?”

“He’s moving around. Julia doesn’t have a phone number for him. She says he’s being careful.”

“He a first-time offender?”

“Yeah.”

“Probably nervous about checking into the big house. Heard all those stories about date rape.”

We turned silent as a pickup approached. It was a new Toyota 4 × 4 fresh off the showroom floor. Dark color. Temporary plates. Extra antennae for a car phone. The Toyota eased up at the Cape Cod and pulled into the driveway. The driver got out and walked to the front door. His back was to us and the lighting was poor.

“What do you think?” Ranger asked. “Is that Mancuso?”

I couldn’t tell from this distance. The man was the right height and weight. Mancuso was twenty-one years old, six feet tall, 175 pounds, dark brown hair. He’d been discharged from the army four months ago, and he was in good shape. I had several pictures that were obtained when the bond had been posted, but they didn’t do me any good from this angle.

“Could be him, but I can’t swear to it without seeing his face,” I said.

The front door of the house opened and the man disappeared inside. The door closed shut.

“We could go knock on the door nice and polite and ask if he’s the man,” Ranger said.

I nodded in agreement. “That might work.”

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