One for the MoneyBy: Janet Evanovich
THERE ARE SOME MEN who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me—not forever, but periodically.
Morelli and I were both born and raised in a blue-collar chunk of Trenton called the burg. Houses were attached and narrow. Yards were small. Cars were American. The people were mostly of Italian descent, with enough Hungarians and Germans thrown in to offset inbreeding. It was a good place to buy calzone or play the numbers. And, if you had to live in Trenton anyway, it was an okay place to raise a family.
When I was a kid I didn’t ordinarily play with Joseph Morelli. He lived two blocks over and was two years older. “Stay away from those Morelli boys,” my mother had warned me. “They’re wild. I hear stories about the things they do to girls when they get them alone.”
“What kind of things?” I’d eagerly asked.
“You don’t want to know,” my mother had answered. “Terrible things. Things that aren’t nice.”
From that moment on, I viewed Joseph Morelli with a combination of terror and prurient curiosity that bordered on awe. Two weeks later, at the age of six, with quaking knees and a squishy stomach, I followed Morelli into his father’s garage on the promise of learning a new game.
The Morelli garage hunkered detached and snubbed at the edge of their lot. It was a sorry affair, lit by a single shaft of light filtering through a grime-coated window. Its air was stagnant, smelling of corner must, discarded tires, and jugs of used motor oil. Never destined to house the Morelli cars, the garage served other purposes. Old Man Morelli used the garage to take his belt to his sons, his sons used the garage to take their hands to themselves, and Joseph Morelli took me, Stephanie Plum, to the garage to play train.
“What’s the name of this game?” I’d asked Joseph Morelli.
“Choo-choo,” he’d said, down on his hands and knees, crawling between my legs, his head trapped under my short pink skirt. “You’re the tunnel, and I’m the train.”
I suppose this tells something about my personality. That I’m not especially good at taking advice. Or that I was born with an overload of curiosity. Or maybe it’s about rebellion or boredom or fate. At any rate, it was a one-shot deal and darn disappointing, since I’d only gotten to be the tunnel, and I’d really wanted to be the train.
Ten years later, Joe Morelli was still living two blocks over. He’d grown up big and bad, with eyes like black fire one minute and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate the next. He had an eagle tattooed on his chest, a tight-assed, narrowhipped swagger, and a reputation for having fast hands and clever fingers.
My best friend, Mary Lou Molnar, said she heard Morelli had a tongue like a lizard.
“Holy cow,” I’d answered, “what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just don’t let him get you alone or you’ll find out. Once he gets you alone … that’s it. You’re done for.”
I hadn’t seen much of Morelli since the train episode. I supposed he’d enlarged his repertoire of sexual exploitation. I opened my eyes wide and leaned closer to Mary Lou, hoping for the worst. “You aren’t talking about rape, are you?”
“I’m talking about lust! If he wants you, you’re doomed. The guy is irresistible.”
Aside from being fingered at the age of six by you-know-who, I was untouched. I was saving myself for marriage, or at least for college. “I’m a virgin,” I said, as if this was news. “I’m sure he doesn’t mess with virgins.”
“He specializes in virgins! The brush of his fingertips turns virgins into slobbering mush.”
Two weeks later, Joe Morelli came into the bakery where I worked every day after school, Tasty Pastry, on Hamilton. He bought a chocolate-chip cannoli, told me he’d joined the navy, and charmed the pants off me four minutes after closing, on the floor of Tasty Pastry, behind the case filled with chocolate éclairs.
The next time I saw him, I was three years older. I was on my way to the mall, driving my father’s Buick when I spotted Morelli standing in front of Giovichinni’s Meat Market. I gunned the big V-8 engine, jumped the curb, and clipped Morelli from behind, bouncing him off the front right fender. I stopped the car and got out to assess the damage. “Anything broken?”