Hot Six(8)

By: Janet Evanovich


I turned onto Hamilton, passed the office, left-turned into the Burg at St. Francis Hospital and wound my way around to the row houses on Grant. The Burg is a residential chunk of Trenton with one side bordering on Chambersburg Street and the other side stretching to Italy. Tastykakes and olive loaf are staples in the Burg. “Sign language” refers to a stiff middle finger jabbed skyward. Houses are modest. Cars are large. Windows are clean.

I parked in the middle of the block and checked my fact sheet to make sure I had the right number. There were twenty-three attached houses all in a row. Each house sat flush to the sidewalk. Each house was two stories tall. Moon lived in number 45 Grant.

He opened the door wide and looked out at me. He was just under six feet tall, with light brown shoulder-length hair parted in the middle. He was slim and loose-jointed, wearing a black Metallica T-shirt and jeans with holes in the knees. He had a jar of peanut butter in one hand and a spoon in the other. Lunchtime. He stared out at me, looking confused, then the light went on, and he rapped himself on the head with the spoon, leaving a glob of peanut butter stuck in his hair. “Shit, dude! I forgot my court date!”

It was hard not to like Moon, and I found myself smiling in spite of my day. “Yeah, we need to get you bonded out again and rescheduled.” And I’d pick him up and chauffeur him to court next time. Stephanie Plum, mother hen.

“How does the Moon do that?”

“You come with me to the station, and I’ll walk you through it.”

“That sucks seriously, dude. I’m in the middle of a Rocky and Bullwinkle retrospective. Can we do this some other time? Hey, I know—why don’t you stay for lunch, and we can watch ol’ Rocky together?”

I looked at the spoon in his hand. Probably he only had one. “I appreciate the invitation,” I said, “but I promised my mom I’d have lunch with her.” What is known in life as a little white lie.

“Wow, that’s real nice. Having lunch with your mom. Far out.”

“So how about if I go have lunch now, and then I come back for you in about an hour?”

“That’d be great. The Moon would really appreciate that, dude.”

Mooching lunch from my mom wasn’t a bad idea, now that I thought about it. Besides getting lunch, I’d get whatever gossip was floating around the Burg about the fire.

I left Moon to his retrospective and had my fingers wrapped around the door handle of my car when a black Lincoln pulled alongside me.

The passenger-side window rolled down and a man looked out. “You Stephanie Plum?”

“Yes.”

“We’d like to have a little chat with you. Get in.”

Yeah, right. I’m going to get into the Mafia staff car with two strange men, one of whom is a Pakistani with a .38 tucked into his Sansabelt pants, partially hidden by the soft roll of his belly, and the other is a guy who looks like Hulk Hogan with a buzz cut. “My mother told me never to ride with strangers.”

“We aren’t so strange,” Hulk said. “We’re just your average couple of guys. Isn’t that right, Habib?”

“That is just so,” Habib said, inclining his head in my direction and smiling, showing a gold tooth. “We are most average in every way.”

“What do you want?” I asked.

The guy in the passenger seat gave a big sigh. “You’re not gonna get in the car, are you?”

“No.”

“Okay, here’s the deal. We’re looking for a friend of yours. Only maybe he’s not a friend anymore. Maybe you’re looking for him, too.”

“Uh-huh.”

“So we thought we could work together. You know, be a team.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, then, we’re just gonna have to follow you around. We thought we should tell you so you don’t get, you know, alarmed when you see us tailing you.”

“Who are you?”

“That’s Habib over there behind the wheel. And I’m Mitchell.”

“No. I mean, who are you? Who do you work for?” I was pretty sure I already knew the answer, but I thought it was worth asking anyway.

“We’d rather not divulge our employer’s name,” Mitchell said. “It don’t matter to you anyway. What you want to remember is that you don’t cut us out of anything, because then we’d be annoyed.”