Hot Six(6)

By: Janet Evanovich


“That’s a possibility, too.”

Shit. Ranger is a mercenary with a strong code of ethics that doesn’t necessarily always correspond to current popular thinking. He came on board as my mentor when I first started working for Vinnie, and the relationship has evolved to include friendship, which is limited by Ranger’s lone-wolf lifestyle and my desire for survival. And, truth is, there’s been a growing sexual attraction between us which scares the hell out of me. So my feelings for Ranger were complicated to begin with, and now I added a sense of doom to the list of unwanted emotions.

Morelli’s pager beeped. He looked at the readout and sighed. “I have to go. If you run across Ranger, pass my message on to him. We really need to talk.”

“It’ll cost you.”

“Dinner?”

“Fried chicken,” I said. “Extra greasy.”

I watched him angle out of the car and cross the street. I enjoyed the view until he was out of sight, and then I turned my attention back to the files. I knew Moon Man Dunphy. I’d gone to school with him. No problem there. I just had to go pry him away from his television set.

Lenny Dale lived in an apartment complex on Grand Avenue and had listed his age as eighty-two. Big groan on this one. There is no good way to apprehend an eighty-two-year-old man. No matter how you cut it, you look and feel like a creep.

Morris Munson’s file was left to read, but I didn’t want to go there. Best to procrastinate and hope Ranger came forward.

I decided to go after Dale first. He was only about a quarter-mile from Vinnie’s office. I needed to make a U-turn on Hamilton, but the car was having none of it. The car was heading for center city and the burnedout building.

Okay, so I’m nosy. I wanted to see the crime scene. And I guess I wanted to have a psychic moment. I wanted to stand in front of the building and have a Ranger revelation.

I crossed the railroad tracks and inched my way along in the morning traffic. The building was at the corner of Adams and Third. It was red-brick and four stories high, probably about fifty years old. I parked on the opposite side of the street, got out of my car, and stared at the fire-blackened windows, some of which were boarded over. Yellow crime-scene tape stretched the width of the building, held in place by sawhorses strategically positioned on the sidewalk to prevent snoops like me from getting too close. Not that I’d let a detail like crime-scene tape stop me from taking a peek.

I crossed the street and ducked under the tape. I tried the double glass door, but found it locked. Inside, the lobby seemed relatively unscathed. Lots of grimy water and smoke-smudged walls, but no visible fire damage.

I turned and looked at the surrounding buildings. Office buildings, stores, a deli-style restaurant on the corner.

Hey, Ranger, are you out there?

Nothing. No psychic moment.

I ran back to the car, locked myself in, and hauled out my cell phone. I dialed Ranger’s number and waited through two rings before his answering machine picked up. My message was brief: “Are you okay?”

I disconnected and sat there for a few minutes, feeling breathless and hollow-stomached. I didn’t want Ranger to be dead. And I didn’t want him to have killed Homer Ramos. Not that I cared a fig about Ramos, but whoever killed him would pay, one way or another.

Finally I put the car in gear and drove away. A half-hour later I was standing in front of Lenny Dale’s door, and apparently the Dales were at it again because there was a lot of shouting going on inside the apartment. I shifted foot to foot in the third-floor hall, waiting for a lull in the racket. When it came, I knocked. This led to another shouting match, over who was going to get the door.

I knocked again. The door was flung open, and an old man stuck his head out at me. “Yeah?”

“Lenny Dale?”

“You’re looking at him, sis.”

He was mostly nose. The rest of his face had shrunk away from that eagle’s beak, his bald dome was dotted with liver spots, and his ears were oversized on his mummified head. The woman behind him was grayhaired and doughy, with tree-trunk legs stuffed into Garfield the Cat bedroom slippers.

“What’s she want?” the woman yelled. “What’s she want?”