Book excerpt

Plum Spooky

A Between the Numbers Novel

Janet Evanovich

St. Martin's Press

Plum Spooky. Copyright © 2008 by Evanovich, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

1

ONE

Sometimes you get up in the morning and you know it’s

going to be one of those days. No toothpaste left in the

tube, no toilet paper on the cardboard roll, hot water cuts

out halfway through your shower, and someone’s left a

monkey on your doorstep.

My name is Stephanie Plum, and I’m a bail bonds enforcement

agent for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. I live in

a one- bedroom, one- bath, unremarkable apartment in a

three- story brick box of a building on the outskirts of

Trenton, New Jersey. Usually I live alone with my hamster,

Rex, but at eight- thirty this morning, my roommate

list was enlarged to include Carl the Monkey. I opened

my door to go to work, and there he was. Small brown

monkey with long, curled tail, creepy little monkey fingers

and toes, crazy, bright monkey eyes, and he was on a

leash hooked to my doorknob. A note was attached to his

collar.

Hi! Remember me? I’m Carl and I belong to

Susan Stitch. Susan is on her honeymoon and

she knows you’ll take good care of me until

she returns.

First, let me say that I’ve never wanted a monkey. Second,

I barely know Susan Stitch. Third, what the heck am I

supposed to do with the little bugger?

Twenty minutes later, I parked my Jeep Wrangler in front

of the bonds office on Hamilton Avenue. At one time, the

Wrangler had been red, but it had seen many lives before it

fell into my hands, and now it was far from primo and the

color was motley.

Carl followed me out of the car and into the office, hugging

my pants leg like a two- year- old. Connie, the office

manager who looked like a big Italian Betty Boop, peered

around her computer.

Lula, the office file clerk and wheelman, stood hands

on hips. “That better not be what I think it is,” Lula said,

eyeballing Carl. “I hate monkeys. You know I hate monkeys.”

“It’s Carl,” I told her. “Remember when we busted Susan

Stitch for failing to appear? And remember her monkey,

Carl?”

 

“Yeah?”

“Here he is.”

“What are you doing with him?”

“He was attached to my doorknob with a note. Susan

went on a honeymoon and left him with me.”

 “She got a lot of nerve,” Lula said. “Where’s he go to the

bathroom? You ever think of that?”

I looked down at Carl. “Well?”

Carl blinked and shrugged. He looked at Lula and Connie,

curled his lips back and gave them a gummy monkey

smile.

“I don’t like the way he’s lookin’ at me,” Lula said. “It’s

creepy. What kind of monkey you got here anyway?”

Lula is a former ’ho, and she’s only moderately altered

her wardrobe to suit her new job. Lula somehow manages

to perform the miracle of squeezing her plus- size body

into petite- size clothes. Her hair was blond this week, her

skin was brown as always, her spandex tube dress was poison

green, and her shoes were four- inch, spike- heeled,

faux leopard Via Spigas. It came as no surprise that the

monkey was staring at Lula. Everyone stared at Lula.

I didn’t command that much attention in my jeans, girlcut

red T-shirt, gray sweatshirt, and inadequate swipe of

lash- lengthening mascara. Not only did I feel like a bran

muffin in a bakery case filled with eclairs, I was also the only

one not packing a gun. My eyes are blue, my hair is brown,

and my favorite word is cake. I was married for ten minutes

in another life, and I’m not inclined to repeat the mistake

anytime soon. There are a couple men in my life who tempt

me . . . just not with marriage.

One of those tempting men is Joe Morelli. He’s a Trenton

cop with bedroom eyes, and bedroom hands, and

everything else you’d want to find in your bedroom is top

of the line. He’s been my off- again, on- again boyfriend

for as long as I can remember, and last night he was onagain.

The second guy in my life is Carlos Manoso, aka Ranger.

Ranger’s been my mentor, my employer, my guardian angel,

and he’s gotten as intimate with me as a man can get, but

Ranger has never totally qualified as a boyfriend. Boyfriend

might suggest an occasional date, and I can’t see Ranger going

there. Ranger is the sort of guy who slips uninvited into

a girl’s dreams and desires and refuses to leave.

 

 

“What’s happening with Martin Munch?” Connie asked

me. “Vinnie’s in a rant over him. Munch is a big- ticket bond.

If you don’t drag his ass into court by the end of the month,

our bottom line won’t be good.”

This is the way things work in the bail bonds business. A

guy gets accused of a crime, and before he’s released back

into society, the court demands a security deposit. If the

accused doesn’t happen to have $50,000 under his mattress

to give to the court, he goes to a bail bonds agent and

that agent posts the bond for the accused for a fee. If the

accused doesn’t show up for his court date, the court gets

to keep the bondsman’s money until someone like me hauls

the accused back to jail.

My ferret- faced cousin Vinnie owns the bonds office on

paper, but he’s backed by his father- in- law, Harry the Hammer.

If Vinnie writes too many bad bonds and the office

runs in the red, Harry isn’t happy. And you don’t want a

guy with a name like Harry the Hammer to be unhappy.

“I’ve been looking for Munch all week,” I said to Connie.

“It’s like he’s dropped off the earth.”

Martin Munch is a twenty- four- year- old genius with a

doctorate in quantum physics. For what ever reason, Munch

went postal on his project manager, riding him like Man

O’War, breaking his nose with a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee

mug, knocking him cold. Moments later, Munch was caught

on a security tape as he left the research lab cradling a oneof-

a-kind monster cesium vapor magnetometer. What ever

the heck that is!

Munch was arrested and booked, but the magnetometer

was never recovered. In a moment of insanity, Vinnie wrote

a bond for Munch, and now Munch is playing hard to get

with his contraption.

“This is a white- collar guy,” Connie said. “He hasn’t grown

up in a crime culture. His friends and family are probably

horrified. I can’t see them hiding him.”

“He hasn’t got a lot of friends and family,” I told her.

“From what I can determine, he has neighbors who have

never spoken to him, and the only family is a grandmother

in a retirement home in Cadmount. He was employed at

the research facility for two years, and he never socialized.

Before that, he was a student at Princeton, where he never

got his face out of a book.

“His neighbors tell me a couple months ago a guy started

visiting Munch. The guy was a little over six feet tall, with

 

an athletic build and expensive clothes. He drove a black

Ferrari and had shoulder- length black hair and pale, almost

white skin. Sometimes Munch would leave with him

and not come back for several days. That’s the whole enchilada.”

“Sounds like Dracula,” Lula said. “Was he wearing a

cape? Did he have fangs?”

“No one said anything about a cape or fangs.”

“Munch must have come in when I was out sick last

week,” Lula said. “I don’t remember him.”

“So what was it?” I asked her. “The flu?”

“I don’t know what it was. My eyes were all swollen, and

I was sneezing and wheezing, and I felt like I had a fever. I

just stayed in my apartment, drinking medicinal whiskey

and taking cold pills, and now I feel fine. What’s this Munch

look like?”

I took his file from my Prada knockoff messenger bag and

showed Lula a photo.

“Good thing he’s a genius,” Lula said, “on account of he

don’t have much else going on.”

At five- feet- two- inches tall, Munch looked more like fourteen

than twenty- four. He was slim, with strawberry blond

hair and pale freckled skin. The photo was taken outdoors,

and Munch was squinting into the sun. He was wearing

jeans and sneakers and a SpongeBob T-shirt, and it occurred

to me that he probably shopped in the kids’ department.

I imagine you have to be pretty secure in your

manhood to pull that one off.

“I’m feeling hot today,” Lula said. “I bet I could find that

Munch. I bet he’s sitting home in his Underoos playing

with his whatchamacallit.”

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt for us to check out his house one

more time,” I said. “He’s renting one of those little tiny row

houses on Crocker Street, down by the button factory.”

 “What are you gonna do with the monkey?” Lula wanted

to know.

I looked over at Connie.

“Forget it,” Connie said. “I’m not babysitting a monkey.

Especially not that monkey.”

“Well, I don’t let monkeys ride in my car,” Lula said. “If

that monkey’s going with us, you’re gonna have to drive

your car. And I’m sitting in the back, so I can keep an eye

on him. I don’t want no monkey sneaking up behind me

giving me monkey cooties.”

“I’ve got two new skips,” Connie said to me. “One of

them, Gordo Bollo, ran over his ex- wife’s brand- new husband

with a pickup truck, twice. And the other, Denny

Guzzi, robbed a con ve nience store and accidentally shot

himself in the foot trying to make his getaway. Both idiots

failed to show for their court appearances.”

Connie shoved the paperwork to the edge of the desk.

I signed the contract and took the files that contained a

photo, the arrest sheet, and the bond agreement for each

man.

“Shouldn’t be hard to tag Denny Guzzi,” Connie said.

“He’s got a big ban dage on his foot, and he can’t run.”

“Yeah, but he’s got a gun,” I said to Connie.

“This is Jersey,” Connie said. “Everyone’s got a gun . . .

except you.”

We left the bonds office, and Lula stood looking at my car.

“I forgot you got this dumb Jeep,” Lula said. “I can’t get

in the back of this thing. Only Romanian acrobats could

get in the back of this. I guess the monkey’s gotta ride in

back, but I swear he makes a move on me, and I’m gonna

shoot him.”

I slid behind the wheel, Lula wedged herself into the

passenger- side seat, and Carl hopped into the back. I adjusted

my rearview mirror, locked onto Carl, and I swear it

looked to me like Carl was making faces at Lula and giving

her the finger.

“What?” Lula said to me. “You got a strange look on

you.”

“It’s nothing,” I said. “I just thought Carl was . . . never

mind.”

I drove across town, parked in front of Munch’s house

on Crocker Street, and we all piled out of the Jeep.

“This here’s a boring- ass house,” Lula said. “It looks like

every other house on the street. If I came home after having

two cosmopolitans, I wouldn’t know which house was

mine. Look at them. They’re all redbrick. They all have the

same stupid black door and black window trim. They don’t

even have no front yard. Just a stoop. And they all got the

same stupid stoop.”

I glanced at Lula. “Are you okay? That’s a lot of hostility

for a poor row house.”

“It’s the monkey. Monkeys give me the willies. And I

might have a headache from all that medicinal whiskey.”

I rang Munch’s doorbell and looked through sheers that

screened the front window. Beyond the sheers, the house

was dark and still.

“I bet he’s in there,” Lula said. “I bet he’s hiding under

the bed. I think we should go around to the back and look.”

There were fifteen row houses in all. All shared common

walls, and Munch’s was almost dead middle. We returned

to the Jeep, I rolled down the street, turned left at the corner

and took the alley that cut the block. I parked, and we

all got out and walked through Munch’s postage- stamp

backyard. The rear of the house was similar to the front. A

door and two windows. The door had a small swinging

trapdoor at the bottom for a pet, and Carl instantly scurried

inside.

I was dumbstruck. One minute, Carl was in the Jeep,

and then, in an instant, he was inside the house.

“Holy macaroni,” Lula said. “He’s fast!”

We looked in a window and saw Carl in the kitchen,

bouncing off counters, jumping up and down on the small

kitchen table.

I pressed my nose to the glass. “I have to get him out.”

“Like hell you do,” Lula said. “This here’s your lucky day.

I say finders keepers.”

“What if Munch never returns? Carl will starve to

death.”

“I don’t think so,” Lula said. “He just opened the refrigerator.”

“There has to be a way to get in. Maybe Munch hid a

key.”

“Well, someone could accidentally break a window,”

Lula said. “And then someone else could crawl in and beat

the living crap out of the monkey.”

“No. We’re not breaking or beating.”

I rapped on the window, and Carl gave me the finger.

Lula sucked in some air. “That little fucker just flipped

us the bird.”

“It was probably accidental.”

Lula glared in at Carl. “Accident this!” she said to him,

middle finger extended.

Carl turned and mooned Lula, although it wasn’t much

of a moon since he wasn’t wearing clothes to begin with.

“Oh yeah?” Lula said. “You want to see a moon? I got a

moon to show you.”

“No!” I said to Lula. “No more moons. Bad enough I just

looked at a monkey butt. I don’t want your butt burned

into my ret i nas.”

“Hunh,” Lula said. “Lotta people paid good money to

see that butt.”

Carl drank some milk out of a carton and put it back into

the refrigerator. He opened the crisper drawer and pawed

around in it but didn’t find anything he wanted. He closed

the refrigerator, scratched his stomach, and looked around.

“Let me in,” I said to him. “Open the door.”

“Yeah, right,” Lula said. “As if his little pea brain could

understand you.”

Carl gave Lula the finger again. And then Carl threw the

deadbolt, opened the door, and stuck his tongue out at Lula.

“If there’s one thing I can’t stand,” Lula said, “it’s a showoff

monkey.”

I did a fast walk- through of the house. Not much to see.

Two small bedrooms, living room, single bath, small eat- in

kitchen. These houses were built by the button factory after

the war to entice cheap labor, and the button factory didn’t

waste money on frills. The houses had been sold many

times over since then and were now occupied by an odd assortment

of se nior citizens, newly marrieds, and crazies.

Seemed to me, Munch fit into the crazy category.

There were no clothes in the closet, no toiletries in the

bathroom, no computer anywhere. Munch had cleared out,

leaving a carton of milk, some sprouted onions, and a halfempty

box of Rice Krispies behind.

“It’s the strangest thing,” Lula said. “I got this sudden

craving for coffee cake. Do you smell cinnamon? It’s like

it’s mixed up with Christmas trees and oranges.”

I’d noticed the scent. And I was afraid I recognized it.

“How about you?” I asked Carl. “Do you smell cinnamon?”

Carl did another shrug and scratched his butt.

“Now all I can think of is cinnamon buns,” Lula said. “I

got buns on the brain. We gotta go find some. Or maybe a

doughnut. I wouldn’t mind a dozen doughnuts. I need a

bakery. I got cravings.”

Everyone vacated the kitchen, I locked the back door,

and we all piled into the Jeep. I found my way to Hamilton

and stopped at Tasty Pastry.

“What kind of doughnut do you want?” I asked Lula.

“Any kind. I want a Boston Cream, a strawberry jelly, a

chocolate- glazed, one of them with the white icing and

pretty colorful sprinkles, and a blueberry. No, wait. I don’t

want the blueberry. I want a vanilla cream and a cinnamon

stick.”

“That’s a lot of doughnuts.”

 “I’m a big girl,” Lula said. “I got big appetites. I feel like

I could eat a million doughnuts.”

“How about you?” I asked Carl. “Do you need a doughnut?”

Carl vigorously shook his head yes and jumped up and

down in his seat and made excited monkey noises.

“It’s creepy that this monkey knows what we’re saying,”

Lula said. “It’s just not right. It’s like he’s a alien monkey or

something.”

“Sometimes Morelli’s dog, Bob, knows what I’m saying.

He knows walk, and come and meatball.”

“Yeah, Tank knows some words, too, but not as many as

this monkey,” Lula said. “Of course, that’s ’cause Tank’s the

big, strong, silent type.”

Tank is Lula’s fiancé, and his name says it all. He’s

Ranger’s right- hand man, second in command at Ranger’s

security firm Rangeman, and he’s the guy Ranger trusts to

guard his back. To say that Tank is the big, strong, silent

type is a gross understatement on all accounts.

Fifteen minutes later, we were in the Jeep and we’d eaten

all the doughnuts.

“I feel a lot better,” Lula said. “Now what?”

I looked down at my shirt. It had powdered sugar and a

big glob of jelly on it. “I’m going home to change my shirt.”

“That don’t sound real interesting,” Lula said. “You could

drop me at the office. I might have to take a nap.”

 

 

 

TWO

I parked my Jeep in the lot behind my apartment building,

and Carl and I crossed the lot and pushed through

the building’s rear entrance. We took the elevator to the

second floor, and Carl waited patiently while I opened my

door.

“So,” I said to him, “do you miss Susan?”

He shrugged.

“You do a lot of shrugging,” I told him.

He studied me for a moment and gave me the finger.

Okay, so it wasn’t a shrug. And giving and getting the finger

is a way of life in Jersey. Still, getting the finger from a

monkey isn’t normal even by Jersey standards.

My apartment consists of a small entrance foyer with

hooks on the wall for coats and hats and handbags. The

kitchen and living room open off the foyer, a dining area is

tucked into an extension of the living room, and at the

other end is a short hallway leading to my bedroom and

bathroom. My décor is mostly what ever was discarded by

relatives. This is okay by me because Aunt Betty’s chair,

Grandma Mazur’s dining room set, and my cousin Tootie’s

coffee table are comfortable. They come to me infused

with family history, and they give off a kind of gentle energy

that my life is sometimes lacking. Not to mention, I

can’t afford anything else.

I hung my tote on one of the hooks in the foyer and stared

down at a pair of scruffy men’s boots that had been kicked

off and left in the middle of the floor. I was pretty sure I recognized

the boots, plus the battered leather backpack that

had been dumped on Tootie’s coffee table.

I walked into the living room and stared down at the

backpack. I blew out a sigh and rolled my eyes. Why me? I

thought. Isn’t it enough that I have a monkey? Do I really

need one more complication?

“Diesel?” I yelled.

I moved to the bedroom, and there he was, sprawled on

my bed. Over six feet of gorgeous, hard- muscled, slightly

tanned male. His eyes were brown and assessing, his hair

was sandy blond, thick, and unruly. His eyebrows were

fierce. Hard to tell his age. Young enough to be lots of

trouble. Old enough to know what he was doing. He was

wearing new gray sweatsocks, tattered jeans, and a faded

T-shirt that advertised a dive shop in the Caicos.

He rolled onto his back and smiled up at me when I

came into the room.

“Hey,” he said.

I pointed stiff- armed to the door. “Out!”

“What, no kiss hello?”

 “Get a grip.”

He patted the bed next to him.

“No way,” I said.

“Afraid?”

Of course I was afraid. He made the Big Bad Wolf look

like chump change.

“How do you always manage to smell like Christmas?” I

asked Diesel.

“I don’t know. It’s just one of those things.” The smile

widened, showing perfect white teeth, and crinkle lines

appeared around his eyes. “It’s part of my appeal,” he said.

“You were in Martin Munch’s house earlier today, weren’t

you?”

“Yeah. You came in the back door, and I went out the front.

I would have hung around, but I was following someone.”

“And?”

“I lost him.”

“Hard to believe.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to roll around on the bed

with me?”

“Rain check,” I told him.

“Really?”

“No.”

Here’s the thing with Diesel. I’d be crazy not to want to

take him for a test drive, but I’ve already got two men in

my life, and that’s actually one too many. Truth is, I’m a good

Catholic girl. The faith has always been elusive, but the guilt

is intractable. I’m not comfortable having simultaneous intimate

relationships . . . even if it’s only for a glorious ten

minutes. And Diesel isn’t a normal guy. At least that’s his

story.

If Diesel is to be believed, there are people living

among us with abilities beyond normal. They look just like

anyone else, and most hold normal jobs and live relatively

normal lives. They’re called Unmentionables, and some

are more unmentionable than others. From what I’ve

seen, Diesel is about as unmentionable as a guy could get.

Diesel travels the world tracking Unmentionables who’ve

gone to the dark side, and then he pulls the power plug. I

don’t know how he accomplishes this. I’m not even sure

I believe any of it. All I know is, one minute he’s here, and

then he’s gone. And when he leaves, the barometric pressure

improves.

Diesel stood and stretched, and when he stretched,

there was a tantalizing flash of skin exposed between shirt

and low- riding jeans. It was enough to make my eyes glaze

over and my mouth go dry. I struggled to replace the

image with thoughts of Morelli naked, but I was only partially

successful.

“I’m hungry,” Diesel said. “What time is it? Is it lunch -

time?” He looked at his watch. “It’s after noon in Greenland.

Close enough.”

He ambled out of the bedroom and into the kitchen,

where Carl was sitting on the counter, staring into Rex’s

aquarium.

“What’s with the monkey?” Diesel asked, his head in the

refrigerator.

“I’m babysitting.”

Diesel gathered up some cold cuts and sliced cheese

and turned to me. “You don’t strike me as especially maternal.”

“I have my moments.” Admittedly not very many, but

probably they’re just waiting for the right time to pop out.

Diesel found bread and made himself a sandwich. “He

got a name?”

“Carl.”

Diesel flipped Carl a slice of bread and Carl caught it

and ate it.

“Are you a monkey man?” I asked Diesel.

“I can take ’em or leave ’em.”

Carl shot Diesel the finger, and Diesel gave a bark of

laughter. Diesel ate some sandwich and looked my way.

“You two must get along great. You taught him that, right?”

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Visiting.”

“You never just visit.”

Diesel got a Bud Light from the fridge, chugged it, and

wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I’m looking

for a guy who has been known to hang with your friend

Munch.”

“Does this guy drive a black Ferrari and have long black

hair?”

“Yes. Have you seen him?”

I shook my head. “No. I’ve talked to Munch’s neighbors,

and apparently he was Munch’s only visitor. Munch didn’t

have much of a social life.”

“What kind of leads do you have?” Diesel asked.

 “The usual. Nothing. And you?”

“I tracked my man to Munch’s house but missed him by

minutes. I’ve been trying to tag him for over a year. He can

sense my approach, and he moves on before I get too close.”

“He’s afraid of you.”

“No. He’s enjoying the game.”

“His name?”

“Gerwulf Grimoire,” Diesel said.

“Wow, that’s a really bad name.”

“This is a really bad guy. And he wields a lot of power.

Somehow he connected with Munch, and now they’re

palling around together with Munch’s magnetometer.”

“Why was What’s-his- name in Munch’s house?” I asked

Diesel.

“Gerwulf Grimoire, but he goes by Wulf. I suppose

he went back to get something. Or maybe he was playing

with me. The house was clean when I got there. I followed

Wulf’s breadcrumbs to Broad Street, and then they disappeared.”

“Breadcrumbs?”

“Cosmic debris. Hard to explain.”

“Do I leave cosmic debris?”

“Everyone leaves it. Some people leave more than others.

Wulf and I leave a lot because we’re dense. We both

carry high energy.”

“That’s weird.”

“Tell me about it,” Diesel said. “You should walk in my

shoes.” He crossed to the foyer, took my bag off its hook,

and stuck his hand in.

 “Hey!” I said. “What are you doing?”

“I want to read your case file on Munch.”

“How do you know it’s in there?”

“I know. Just like I know you’re wearing a pink lace

thong, and you think I’m hot.”

“How? What?” I said.

“Lucky guess,” Diesel said, pulling the file out of my bag,

scanning the pages.

“I do not think you’re hot.”

“That’s a big fib,” Diesel said.

“I can save you some time,” I told him. “There isn’t anything

in Munch’s file. Only a grandmother.”

“Then let’s talk to the grandmother.”

“I’ve already talked to her.”

Diesel shoved his feet into his boots and laced up. “Let’s

talk to her again.”

I changed my shirt, and we headed out.

“Your car or mine?” I asked him when we got to the lot.

“What are you driving?”

“The Jeep that used to be red.”

“I like it,” Diesel said.

“What are you driving?”

“The hog.”

I looked over at the black Harley. No room for Carl, and

it would wreck my hair. “Probably it’s easier to follow cosmic

dust when you’re on a bike,” I said.

Diesel settled himself into the Jeep’s passenger- side seat

and grinned at me. “You don’t really think there’s cosmic

dust, do you?”

I plugged the key into the ignition. “Of course not. Cosmic

dust would be . . . ridiculous.”

Diesel hooked an arm around my neck, pulled me to

him, and kissed me on the top of my head. “This is going to

be fun,” he said.

Janet Evanovich is the author of the Stephanie Plum books, including One for the Money and Sizzling Sixteen, and the Diesel & Tucker series, including Wicked Appetite. Janet studied painting at Douglass College, but that art form never quite fit, and she soon moved on to writing stories. She didn’t have instant success: she collected a big box of rejection letters. As she puts it, “When the box was full I burned the whole damn thing, crammed myself into pantyhose and went to work for a temp agency.” But after a few months of secretarial work, she managed to sell her first novel for $2,000. She immediately quit her job and started working full-time as a writer. After 12 romance novels, she switched to mystery, and created Stephanie Plum. The rest is history. Janet’s favorite exercise is shopping, and her drug of choice is Cheeze Doodles. She and her husband live in New Hampshire, in house with a view of the Connecticut River Valley.