Twelve Sharp

By: Janet Evanovich

ONE





When I was twelve years old I accidentally substituted salt for sugar in a cake recipe. I baked the cake, iced the cake, and served it up. It looked like a cake, but as soon as you cut into it and took a taste, you knew something else was going on. People are like that, too. Sometimes you just can’t tell what’s on the inside from looking at the outside. Sometimes people are a big surprise, just like the salt cake. Sometimes the surprise turns out to be good. And sometimes the surprise turns out to be bad. And sometimes the surprise is just friggin’ confusing.

Joe Morelli is one of those good surprises. He’s two years older than I am, and for most of my school years, spending time with Morelli was like a visit to the dark side, alluring and frightening. He’s a Trenton cop now, and he’s my off-again, on-again boyfriend. He used to be the hair-raising part of my life, but my life has had a lot of changes, and now he’s the normal part. He has a dog named Bob, and a nice little house, and a toaster. On the outside Morelli is still street tough and dangerously alluring. On the inside Morelli is now the sexy guy with the toaster. Go figure.

I have a hamster named Rex, a utilitarian apartment, and my toaster is broken. My name is Stephanie Plum, and I work as a bond enforcement agent, also known as a bounty hunter, for my cousin Vinnie. It’s not a great job, but it has its moments, and if I mooch food off my parents the job almost pays enough to get me through the month. It would pay a lot more but the truth is, I’m not all that good at it.

Sometimes I moonlight for a guy named Ranger who’s extremely bad in an incredibly good way. He’s a security expert, and a bounty hunter, and he moves like smoke. Ranger is milk chocolate on the outside . . . a delicious, tempting, forbidden pleasure. And no one knows what’s on the inside. Ranger keeps his own counsel.

I work with two women I like a lot. Connie Rosolli is Vinnie’s office manager and junkyard dog. She’s a little older than I am. A little smarter. A little tougher. A little more Italian. She’s got a lot more chest, and she dresses like Betty Boop.

The other woman is my sometimes-partner Lula. Lula was at this moment parading around in the bail bonds office, showing Connie and me her new outfit. Lula is a way-beyond-voluptuous black woman who was currently squashed into four-inch spike heels and a sparkly gold spandex dress that had been constructed for a much smaller woman. The neckline was low, and the only thing keeping Lula’s big boobs from popping out was the fact that the material was snagged on her nipples. The skirt was stretched tight across her ass and hung two inches below the full moon.

With Connie and Lula you get what you see.

Lula bent to take a look at the heel on her shoe, and Connie was treated to a view of the night sky.

“Crikey,” Connie said. “You need to put some underwear on.”

“I got underwear on,” Lula said. “I’m wearing my best thong. Just ’cause I used to be a ’ho don’t mean I’m cheap. Problem is that little thong stringy gets lost in all my derriere.”

“Tell me again what you’re doing in this getup,” Connie said.

“I’m gonna be a rock-and-roll singer. I got a gig singing with Sally Sweet’s new band. You heard of the Who? Well, we’re gonna be the What.”

“You can’t sing,” Connie said. “I’ve heard you sing. You can’t hold a tune to ‘Happy Birthday.’ ”

“The hell I can’t,” Lula said. “I could sing your ass off. Besides, half those rock stars can’t sing. They just open their big oversize mouths and yell. And you gotta admit, I look good in this here dress. Nobody gonna be paying attention to my singing when I’m wearing this dress.”

“She’s got a point,” I said to Connie.

“No argument,” Connie said.

“I’m underrealized,” Lula said. “I gotta lot of untapped potential. Yesterday my horoscope said I gotta expand my horizons.”

“You expand any more in that dress, and you’ll get yourself arrested,” Connie said.

The bonds office is on Hamilton Avenue, a couple blocks from Saint Frances Hospital. Handy for bonding out guys who’ve been shot. It’s a small storefront office sandwiched between a beauty parlor and a used bookstore. There’s an outer room with a scarred imitation leather couch, a couple folding chairs, Connie’s desk and computer, and a bank of files. Vinnie’s office is located in a room behind Connie’s desk.

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