Life's just a kick in the plums (except when it's not)
Some days in Stephanie Plum's life, bounty hunter un-extraordinaire, just don't go as planned
It started out just like any other day. I woke up, groaned, and swatted at the alarm clock a few times, contemplated shooting the second clock that was also beeping cheerfully at me from across the room, and then hauled myself out of bed. I'd taken the precaution of setting two clocks as I was running seriously short on cash and it was too cold to get chucked out of my apartment for not making the rent. With Joyce Barnhardt also hitting hard times, I needed to get to the office before she did to see if any new skips had come in. I padded to the kitchen because coffee was needed before I could even think about doing anything else and waited for the machine to do its thing. As I stretched and idly scratched my belly, I noticed the two men sitting on my sofa. I give myself some credit for only jumping a little bit and not screaming or showing any other sign of surprise at their presence.
They were at opposite ends of the couch, as far away as they could get from each other while still maintaining a facade of politeness. Morelli looked me up and down. “When was the last time you waxed?”
I threw my mug at him, and Ranger's lips twitched as he tried not to smile. I turned sharply on my heel and walked into the bathroom; Tweedledum and Tweedledee would have to wait until I'd showered. I washed my hair with a fantastic smelling blueberry and mango shampoo that would do nothing to control my curls, but I figured I was going to need all the shock tactics I could get. I also debated walking back out there naked, but that could be taking things a bit too far. Besides, if I ended up in bed with one or both of those men, it would be initially satisfactory but wouldn't actually deal with any of our issues.
I sighed and threw on some jeans and a t-shirt and braced myself for going back into the room. Joe was studiously staring at the carpet while Ranger had drifted into his own little world with his eyes half lidded and I could have sworn slightly crossed.
Joe stood up and was the first to speak. “Cupcake, I just wanted to drop by and let you know that I have to head out of town for a bit. I need to testify on a case that's being tried in Atlanta and I'm not sure how long they're going to need me.”
“I'm actually here for the same reason, babe. I'm going after a high profile skip, big-time arms dealer who we think is down in Miami.”
“You know I can do perfectly well on my own,” I huffed. “I don't have anything other than routine skips at the moment.”
“Babe,” Ranger said with a smile, “you have a way of turning even the most mundane skip into something potentially deadly. Anyway, I've talked to Morelli,” he nodded at the other man, “and while we're away, I'm leaving you a babysitter. Don't bother arguing, he's yours for the duration. Please try not to make him cry, he's new and you know how hard it is for them to work with the other men after that.”
Ranger whipped his cellphone out of a pocket, dialled, and after a moment said, “It's safe,” then hung up.
I managed to ditch Ranger's goon sometime after lunch after he went to get a third change of clothes and a shower to get the dumpster smell off him. I think he was probably pleased to be rid of me. As it was he was going to have a hard time explaining to Ranger how he'd let me get slapped, soaked, and covered in garbage, and my telling him that he should be pleased that nothing had blown up or spontaneously combusted wasn't taken too well.
All I needed now were empty calories - this was a day that was crying out for baked goods. If they were deep fried and coated in powdered sugar then so much the better. I decided to head over to Trixie's Treats, a new bakery that had just opened on the other side of town, and one where I was less likely to bump into someone who knew me or, more importantly, my mother.
The selection of donuts in the store was truly impressive, and as a new shop I thought it was my duty to try one of everything, just to be thorough. I'd already dug into the box and demolished two donuts and was brushing powdered sugar off my top when i spotted the skip I'd been chasing for the last two days across the street. I didn't have time to put the box in the car and there was no way I was dropping it, so I hefted my purse more securely over my shoulder and took off at a run. I was panting before I'd stepped twenty paces and Donnie Hoffman was quickly outpacing me.
Thinking quickly, I grabbed the only thing I could think off and threw a donut at him. I don't know who was more surprised when it hit him squarely in the back of the head and burst in an explosion of greasy jelly. He turned on me and glared. Uh oh. With a roar, he launched himself towards me and I could do nothing but stand there wide eyed, a rabbit frozen in the headlights. I put my hands up in front of me as he charged. As he hit with an oomf we both went over. The box of donuts had been sandwiched between us, and as we rolled on the ground, we created a mush of fried dough and jelly and custard. Donnie grabbed a handful and tried to smear it on my face. I saw his hand coming and turned my head quickly enough that it missed my eyes, but it meant that I ended up with an earful of greasy ex-donut mix.
This was war.
We both managed to get to our feet, and forgetting anything about cuffing him, I grabbed a handful of the goo myself and thrust it down the back of his t-shirt. His little piggy eyes narrowed, and he lowered his head and butted me in the stomach. For the second time in as many minutes I was lying on my back, staring at the sky. I heard rapidly retreating footsteps, and as I stood up, I asked if anyone in the crowd of onlookers had managed to pay attention to where he was going. They were all rendered speechless by what they'd witnessed and only managed a couple of shrugs and shaken heads. I realized that enough people had seen the fight for it to get back to my mother anyway, so decided to bite the bullet as it was closer to head there to shower than to my apartment.
My mother and grandma were standing on the doorstep of the house as I pulled up. When she saw me, my mother gasped and crossed herself.
"Ohmigod who did you shoot? Why is there blood on your shirt? Do you need your father to help with the body?" she asked, looking shiftily from side to side for neighbors.
"Mom! I didn't shoot anyone, it was a bit of a fight with a skip. Although it is great to know that you'd have my side if I needed to hide bodies." I absent-mindedly ran my finger through the mess on my top and sucked it into my mouth.
Grandma Mazur's eyes widened. "Wow, that's hardcore, Stephanie. I've seen you eat some strange things before when you were desperate, but cannibalism is new."
My eyelid started twitching and I clamped a hand over it protectively.
“On second thoughts, it was nice to see you but I have to dash.” I turned tail and scurried back to my car. It wasn't that much further to sit in filthy clothes, and I really didn't want to explain what had happened right at that moment.
This had been a lousy day after a string of lousy weeks and I decided the only thing that might fix it was a meatball sub. After I showered, I headed to Pino's, and luckily it was early enough in the day that there wasn't a line. I slumped into a booth and ordered a bottle of beer and some food. I think I was somewhere into my fifth bottle and was just resting my head for a moment on the table when I heard the Naugahyde squeak and felt the weight of someone settle beside me.
"I see that Happy Hour is over and maudlin self pity hour has begun." I didn't even bother to respond just lifted my head and took another swig of beer.
After a couple of long pulls I muttered “I thought you were out of the state.”
"Skip was easier than we thought," Ranger replied. "I just wanted to check on how you were doing." I didn't even bother asking Ranger how he'd found me; chances were he'd bugged something on me, or the wiretaps he had on all phones in the Trenton area had picked up the hurried phonecalls to my mother telling her about her daughter's slide into alcoholism.
"If you're going to judge me, you can just leave. If not, have a drink and shut up."
"Who am I to refuse a lady?" Ranger signalled for a drink. I don't really recall much after that, but I'm pretty certain that Ranger dropped me off at my apartment. I woke up the next morning alone in my own bed, and was fairly sure Ranger hadn't stayed over as I was still wearing panties.
"I told you this was a really bad idea!" I yelled behind me as I ran through the narrow, poorly lit spaces. I could barely see the back of my skip as he wove in and out of outraged tourists. We finally reached an empty room, pushing through the closed-for-maintenance signs, and I grabbed the cuffs from the back pocket of my jeans.
Donnie, backed up against the dark glass and still brandishing the hammer he'd been carrying, said, "Don't move or I'll... I'll.."
"You'll what?" I retorted, "Wave a hammer at me? Have fun with that. You've already made my grandma think I was a cannibal, and I still can't hear properly through the jelly in my left ear. You're going down."
It was like a lightbulb going on as Donnie suddenly realised that the hammer wasn't surgically attached to his hand and swung his arm back to throw. The hammer hit the glass behind him and there was an ominous cracking sound. "Uh oh," he said, "I don't think that sounds good."
There was silence for a moment, and with a sudden noise like a firecracker going off, the glass gave way revealing that it wasn't a window or a mirror but an aquarium. There was a deluge of water, and as Donnie disappeared under, I gleefully stepped towards him to get the cuffs on. I wasn't expecting it to be so slippery underfoot, and I landed on my ass in the water. There was a moment where we both floundered, and then Donnie tried to make a dash for it. I grabbed his leg, and he tried to shake me off, but I stuck to him like a limpet. I heard laboured breathing behind me and assumed Lula had finally caught up.
As I looked up, I saw her pulling her stun gun out of her purse.
"NO!" I yelled, but it was too late; she pressed the prongs against Donnie's neck and we both went out like lights as we were sitting in the same pool of water. As I came round and struggled to sit up, I saw Donnie was still out but at least someone had thought to put cuffs on him. Hah! that's what you get for attacking people with their own donuts.
I heard a familiar voice behind me.
"Babe, you might want to take this and cover up, oh, and nice hat."
I protectively clamped by arms over my chest and, scowling, asked, "What do you mean? I'm not wearing a hat. And stop staring at my nipples."
Almost against my will my hands went from my boobs up to my head, and I ran my fingers through my hair. When they encountered something slimy, slightly damp and… tentacled, well it's fair to say that I freaked out. There was flailing, jumping, screaming and people at the other side of the center swore they could hear the terrified yells of 'GET IT OFF, GET IT OFF ME!!!'
The cephalopod was less than enthusiastic at this and maintained a death grip on my hair. Lula had been secreting a large hunting knife somewhere on her person and approached me with a determined grin, clearly intending to cut it from my head. Ranger reached out to stop her, but before he could do anything, the octopus, somehow sensing that this wasn't going to end well, let go, and with one final shake of my head, was thrown clear where Lula scooped it up and shoved it into her purse. As we stared at her she said
"What? It's not everyday you get free calamari, that stuff's really expensive at the market!"