Fearless Fourteen

By: Janet Evanovich

ONE





IN MY MIND, my kitchen is filled with crackers and cheese, roast chicken leftovers, farm fresh eggs, and coffee beans ready to grind. The reality is that I keep my Smith & Wesson in the cookie jar, my Oreos in the microwave, a jar of peanut butter and hamster food in the over-the-counter cupboard, and I have beer and olives in the refrigerator. I used to have a birthday cake in the freezer for emergencies, but I ate it.

Truth is, I would dearly love to be a domestic goddess, but the birthday cake keeps getting eaten. I mean, you buy it, and you eat it, right? And then where are you? No birthday cake. Ditto cheese and crackers and eggs and the roast chicken leftovers (which were from my mother). The coffee beans are light-years away. I don’t own a grinder. I guess I could buy two birthday cakes, but I’m afraid I’d eat both.

My name is Stephanie Plum, and in my defense I’d like to say that I have bread and milk on my shopping list, and I don’t have any communicable diseases. I’m five feet, seven inches. My hair is brown and shoulder length and naturally curly. My eyes are blue. My teeth are mostly straight. My manicure was pretty good three days ago, and my shape is okay. I work as a bond enforcement agent for my cousin Vinnie, and today I was standing in Loretta Rizzi’s kitchen, thinking not only was Loretta ahead of me in the kitchen-needs-a-makeover race, but she made me look like a piker in the Loose Cannon Club.

It was eight in the morning, and Loretta was wearing a long, pink flannel nightgown and holding a gun to her head.

“I’m gonna shoot myself,” Loretta said. “Not that it would matter to you, because you get your money dead or alive, right?”

“Technically, that’s true,” I told her. “But dead is a pain in the tuchus. There’s paperwork.”

A lot of the people Vinnie bonds out are from my Chambersburg neighborhood in Trenton, New Jersey. Loretta Rizzi was one of those people. I went to school with Loretta. She’s a year older than me, and she left high school early to have a baby. Now she was wanted for armed robbery, and she was about to blow her brains out.

Vinnie had posted Loretta’s bond, and Loretta had failed to show for her court appearance, so I was dispatched to drag her back to jail. And as luck would have it, I walked in at a bad moment and interrupted her suicide.

“I just wanted a drink,” Loretta said.

“Yeah, but you held up a liquor store. Most people would have gone to a bar.”

“I didn’t have any money, and it was hot, and I needed a Tom Collins.” A tear rolled down Loretta’s cheek. “I’ve been thirsty lately,” she said.

Loretta is a half a head shorter than me. She has curly black hair and a body kept toned by hefting serving trays for catered affairs at the firehouse. She hasn’t changed much since high school. A few crinkle lines around her eyes. A little harder set to her mouth. She’s Italian-American and related to half the Burg, including my off-and-on boyfriend, Joe Morelli.

“This was your first offense. And you didn’t shoot anyone. Probably you’ll get off with a hand-slap,” I told Loretta.

“I had my period,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking right.”

Loretta lives in a rented row house on the edge of the Burg. She has two bedrooms, one bath, a scrubbed-clean, crackerbox kitchen, and a living room filled with secondhand furniture. Hard to make ends meet when you’re a single mother without a high school diploma.

The back door swung open and my sidekick, Lula, stuck her head in. “What’s going on in here? I’m tired of waiting in the car. I thought this was gonna be a quick pickup, and then we were going for breakfast.”

Lula is a former ’ho, turned bonds office file clerk and wheelman. She’s a plus-size black woman who likes to squash herself into too small clothes featuring animal print and spandex. Lula’s cup runneth over from head to toe.

“Loretta is having a bad morning,” I said.

Lula checked Loretta out. “I can see that. She’s still in her nightie.”

“Notice anything else?” I asked Lula.

“You mean like she’s tryin’ to style her hair with a Smith & Wesson?”

“I don’t want to go to jail,” Loretta said.