Four to ScoreBy: Janet Evanovich
Living in Trenton in July is like living inside a big pizza oven. Hot, airless, aromatic.
Because I didn't want to miss any of the summer experience I had the sunroof open on my Honda CRX. My brown hair was pulled up into a wind-snarled, curls-gone-to-frizz ponytail. The sun baked the top of my head, and sweat trickled under my black spandex sports bra. I was wearing matching spandex shorts and a sleeveless oversized Trenton Thunders baseball jersey. It was an excellent outfit except it gave me no place to stick my .38. Which meant I was going to have to borrow a gun to shoot my cousin Vinnie.
I parked the CRX in front of Vinnie's storefront bail bonds office, lunged out of the car, stalked across the sidewalk, and yanked the office door open. "Where is he? Where is that miserable little excuse for a human being?"
"Uh oh," Lula said from behind the file cabinet. "Rhino alert."
Lula is a retired hooker who helps clean up the filing and sometimes rides shotgun for me when I do my fugitive apprehension thing. If people were cars, Lula would be a big, black '53 Packard with a high-gloss chrome grille, oversized headlights, and a growl like a junkyard dog. Lots of muscle. Never fit in a compact space.
Connie Rosolli, the office manager, pushed back at her desk when I entered. Connie's domain was this one front room where friends and relatives of miscreants came to beg money. And to the rear, in an inner office, my cousin Vinnie slapped Mr. Johnson around and conversed with his bookie.
"Hey," Connie said, "I know what you're bummed about, and this wasn't my decision. Personally, if I were you, I'd kick your cousin's pervert ass around the block."
I pushed a clump of hair that had strayed from the ponytail back from my face. "Kicking isn't good enough. I think I'll shoot him."
"Go for it!" Lula said.
"Yeah," Connie agreed. "Shoot him."
Lula checked out my clothes. "You need a gun? I don't see no gun bulges in that spandex." She hiked up her T-shirt and pulled a Chief’s Special out of her cut-off denim shorts. "You could use mine. Just be careful; it sights high."
"You don't want a little peashooter like that," Connie said, opening her desk drawer. "I've got a forty-five. You can make a nice big hole with a forty-five."
Lula went for her purse. "Hold on here. If that's what you want, let me give you the big stud. I've got a forty-four magnum loaded up with hydroshocks. This baby'll do real damage, you see what I'm saying? You could drive a Volkswagen through the hole this sweetheart makes."
"I was sort of kidding about shooting him," I told them.
"Too bad," Connie said.
Lula shoved her gun back in her shorts. "Yeah, that's damn disappointing."
"So where is he? Is he in?"
"Hey, Vinnie!" Connie yelled. "Stephanie's here to see you!"
The door to the inner office opened and Vinnie poked his head out. "What?"
Vinnie was 5'7", looked like a weasel, thought like a weasel, smelled like a French whore and was once in love with a duck.
"You know what!" I said, hands fisted on hips. "Joyce Barnhardt, that's what. My grandma was at the beauty parlor and heard you hired Joyce to do skip tracing."
"So what's the big deal? I hired Joyce Barnhardt."
"Joyce Barnhardt does makeovers at Macy's."
"And you used to sell ladies' panties."
"That was entirely different. I blackmailed you into giving me this job."
"Exactly," Vinnie said. "So what's your point?"
"Fine!" I shouted. "Just keep her out of my way! I hate Joyce Barnhardt!"
And everybody knew why. At the tender age of twenty-four, after less than a year of marriage, I'd caught Joyce bareassed on my dining room table, playing hide-the-salami with my husband. It was the only time she'd ever done me a favor. We'd gone through school together, where she'd spread rumors, told fibs, ruined friendships and peeked under the stall doors in the girls' bathroom to see people's underpants.
She'd been a fat kid with a terrible overbite. The overbite had been minimalized by braces, and by the time Joyce was fifteen she'd trimmed down to look like Barbie on steroids. She had chemically enhanced red hair done up in big teased curls. Her nails were long and painted, her lips were high gloss, her eyes were rimmed in navy liquid liner, her lashes gunked up with blue-black mascara. She was an inch shorter than me, five pounds heavier and had me beat by two cup sizes. She had three ex-husbands and no children. It was rumored she had sex with large dogs.