Hot Six(4)

By: Janet Evanovich


“There’s something wrong with this picture,” I said. It made my heart feel leaden in my chest, because there were people out there who wouldn’t mind seeing Ranger disappear forever. And his disappearance would make a very large hole in my life.

“It’s not like Ranger to ignore his court date. Or to ignore his page.”

Lula and Connie exchanged glances.

“You know that big fire they had downtown on Sunday?” Connie said. “Turns out the building is owned by Alexander Ramos.”

Alexander Ramos deals guns, regulating the flow of black market arms from his summer compound on the Jersey shore and his winter fortress in Athens. Two of his three adult sons live in the United States, one in Santa Barbara, the other in Hunterdon County. The third son lives in Rio. None of this is privileged information. The Ramos family has made the cover of Newsweek four times. People have speculated for years that Ranger has ties to Ramos, but the exact nature of those ties has always been unknown. Ranger is a master of keeping things unknown.

“And?” I asked.

“And when they could finally go through the building yesterday they found Ramos’s youngest son, Homer, barbecued in a third-floor office. Besides being toasted, he also had a large bullet hole in his head.”

“And?”

“And Ranger’s wanted for questioning. The police were here just a few minutes ago, looking for him.”

“Why do they want Ranger?”

Connie did a palms-up.

“Anyway, he’s skipped,” Vinnie said, “and you’re gonna bring him in.”

My voice involuntarily rose an octave. “What, are you crazy? I’m not going after Ranger!”

“That’s the beauty of it,” Vinnie said. “You don’t have to go after him. He’ll come to you. He’s got a thing for you.”

“No! No way. Forget it.”

“Fine,” Vinnie said, “you don’t want the job, I’ll put Joyce on it.”

Joyce Barnhardt is my archenemy. Ordinarily, I’d eat dirt before I’d give anything up to Joyce. In this case, Joyce could take it. Let her spend her time spinning her wheels, looking for the invisible man.

“So what else have you got?” I asked Connie.

“Two minors and a real stinker.” She passed three folders over to me. “Since Ranger isn’t available I’m going to have to give the stinker to you.”

I flipped the top file open. Morris Munson. Arrested for vehicular manslaughter. “Could be worse,” I said. “Could be a homicidal rapist.”

“You didn’t read down far enough,” Connie said. “After this guy ran over the victim, who just happened to be his ex-wife, he beat her with a tire iron, raped her, and tried to set her on fire. He was charged with vehicular manslaughter because according to the M.E. she was already dead when he took the tire iron to her. He had her soaked in gasoline and was trying to get his Bic to work when a blue-and-white happened to drive by.”

Little black dots danced in front of my eyes. I sat down hard on the fake-leather couch and put my head between my legs.

“You okay?” Lula asked.

“Probably it’s just low blood sugar,” I said. Probably it’s my job.

“It could be worse,” Connie said. “It says here he wasn’t armed. Just bring your gun along, and I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“I can’t believe they let him out on bail!”

“Go figure,” Connie said. “Guess they didn’t have any more room at the inn.”

I looked up at Vinnie, who was still standing in the doorway to his private office. “You wrote bail on this maniac?”

“Hey, I’m not a judge. I’m a businessman. He didn’t have any priors,” Vinnie said. “And he has a good job working at the button factory. Homeowner.”

“And now he’s gone.”

“Didn’t show up for his court date,” Connie said. “I called the button factory, and they said last they saw him was Wednesday.”

“Have they heard from him at all? Did he call in sick?”

“No. Nothing. I called his home number and got his machine.”

I glanced at the other two files. Lenny Dale, missing in action, charged with domestic violence. And Walter “Moon Man” Dunphy, wanted for drunk and disorderly and urinating in a public place.