If you'd told me at the start how much trouble two respectable doctors from Princeton could cause, one of them a cripple with a cane, I would not have believed it. And I might not have taken the skip, even though I did need to buy groceries that week.
My name is Stephanie Plum, and I'm a bond enforcement agent in Trenton, New Jersey. I have a weakness for chocolate, donuts, fried chicken in gravy, and tall dark handsome men. I have two of the latter in my life, one an Italian American cop with chocolate eyes and a perfect body, the other a Cuban American top bounty hunter and man of mystery. It can get kinda complicated. When I drove to my cousin Vinnie's office in search of work that day, I didn't realize that having House and Wilson in my life was about to complicate things a whole lot more.
I came into the office to find Connie's desk heaped high with paperwork, to the point where Lula was actually doing some filing. Connie Rosolli keeps the office of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds running for my useless cousin, and somehow she does it while keeping her hair big and her nails long, red and indestructible. Lula's employed to do the filing, but she prefers to ride gunshot with me when she can.
"I need a skip," I said to Connie. "Someone easy so I can afford to buy food this week. Or, I'm going to have to go back to my mother's house for every meal."
"I have just the man." Connie picked the top file off the stack in front of her. "Would you like a trip to Princeton?"
"Now, I wouldn't mind a drive out to Princeton," Lula exclaimed, leaning so hard on the filing drawer that the cabinet creaked ominously. Lula's a large lady, although she doesn't acknowledge that in her choice of clothes sizes. "Especially in that new sweet car of yours."
"New car?" Connie's ears visibly perked up, making the large dangling hoops jangle a tune.
"It's not mine," I said hastily. "It's a loan."
"From the loan Ranger." Lula was knowing.
"I bet Morelli's really happy about that." Connie put the file down and leaned back in her chair.
"If he doesn't like it, he can get Stephanie her own black Beemer," said Lula.
"A Beemer? Nice. Soft top?"
I reached for the file, trying to get the conversation off my ride. It was a very nice car and if I hadn't taken it, I would have been reduced to driving my Uncle Sandor's Buick again. It was worth some jealousy from Morelli to avoid that. "The skip. Who is it?"
"New guy. Just in this morning. Jonathan Wilson." Connie watched me open the file. "Arrested for drunk and disorderly last week. Didn't want anyone to know about it, especially not Mom and Dad. No assets since he got divorced last year and his wife walked off with the house. His brother stood bail, James Wilson, he's a doctor out in Princeton."
"A doctor. In Princeton. I could definitely handle a drive out there. Just so long as we stop at Cluck-in-a-Bucket first. I've been filing all morning, I need a fried chicken fix." Lula leaned a well-padded hip on the drawer and it shut with a protesting squeak.
I liked the sound of it, too. I could handle drunk and disorderly, along with a greasy lunch. With any luck we would find Jonathan Wilson drunk asleep at home, or in a bar nearby. I might not even need to go to Princeton at all.
An hour later, Lula and I were on the freeway heading out towards Princeton. We had stopped for a fried chicken fix first, then swung by Jonathan Wilson's house with no results. I had managed to find a door key under a withered potted plant before Lula was tempted to break a window, and we had prowled briefly around the house. But it had just been an ordinary messy bachelor pad in a small square building, with cheap furniture and plain walls, and empty. Nobody slumped in a drunken stupor on the couch.
Jonathan Wilson's brother was Head of Oncology at Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, and therefore a good bet for the bond. We arrived at the hospital, and the first thing we came across was a sign to the free drop-in clinic.
"A free clinic?" Lula's head was up and her eyes were sharp. "Free, like free? You see a doctor and you don't have to pay?"
"That's right," the nurse at the reception desk said. "You need a doctor?"
"I got a few aches and pains that a free doctor could look at for me, yes sirree," Lula said, and we found ourselves sitting, waiting in a long line.
"How long d'ya think it'll take to get seen?" Lula wondered aloud.
"An hour?" I suggested.
"I'm not waiting no hour," Lula declared, and went up to speak to the nurse in charge. I could see Lula making expansive gestures, but the nurse cut her off before she got to a full-blown frenzy. A few minutes later we found ourselves ushered into Exam Room 1, and the door closed firmly behind us.
Lula settled down on a table to wait. I was thinking that we had been put in the room just to get us out of the way; but, a couple of minutes later the door opened again, and in walked a man. He was wearing a scruffy casual shirt and jeans, holding a file in one hand and a cane in the other.
"You're the doctor?" Lula said skeptically. "You don't look like no doctor."
"And you don't look like a woman of virtue." The man slammed the door shut behind him.
Lula was wearing skintight leopard print leggings with a red spandex top that was basically stuck on. Even so, that was some thing to say to a patient. "Huh. Where's your white coat?" Lula demanded, suspicious. "Doctors wear white coats."
"I can see why Nurse Brenda gave you to me," the man said, and sat down hard on a swivel chair. He propped the cane up against a desk. "I'm Dr. House, Head of Diagnostic Medicine, and I have a diagnosis for you already."
He picked up a prescription pad and started writing on it.
Lula looked at me with surprise, then turned back to Dr. House. "You haven't even asked me what's wrong!"
"I don't need to. Whatever it is, it will be because you're too fat." House handed Lula the prescription; I craned my neck to see.
House had written Diet and exercise. I stifled a giggle.
"I could sue," Lula warned.
"Go ahead. Then maybe I can finally get out of clinic duty." House stood up and picked up his cane.
"Hey!" Lula said indignantly. "I haven't even told you what's wrong!"
House let out a huge exasperated sigh and sat down. "Hit me, FatGirl."
"Bite me, Gimpy," Lula responded, and I squirmed, but House actually seemed to be entertained by that. He leaned back in the chair a little, and looked at Lula through sharp blue eyes. Lula leaned forward and House's eyes angled downwards and focused as her huge bosom wobbled slightly.
I butted in. "It's not Lula who's sick, it's me. I think I've got a lump. In my... breast."
Lula looked at me in surprise, but when House replied she nodded in comprehension.
"Then you need an oncologist," he said, and swiveled in the chair to pick up a phone. He dialed and spoke. "Wilson? Exam Room One. I need a consult."
Wilson. Oncologist. Result. I caught Lula's eye while House was distracted on the phone, and she gave me the thumbs up.
While we waited, House eyed my breasts for a minute but didn't try and examine them. He then picked up a Gameboy, which Lula took exception to. FatGirl and Gimpy were still exchanging insults a couple of minutes later when the door opened, and in came another doctor. This one was wearing a white coat over a smart shirt and a singularly ugly brown striped tie. James Wilson.
Actually his name badge said Jack, but it was obviously Dr. James Wilson, Head of Oncology. I had a photograph of Jonathan in the file, and there was a definite family resemblance. Except that James was younger and cuter, and I could tell by the way Lula sat up a little straighter that she thought so too.
"Hey, House, what's up?" Wilson said easily, and smiled at myself and Lula. Lula beamed back at him.
"The hooker's friend here says--" House began, but Lula cut him off.
"Fucking cheek. I retired from that game years ago!"
Wilson looked slightly shocked and House spluttered slightly before saying, "Has nobody told you that you need to get a non-hooker wardrobe?"
Lula looked like she was going to argue the point, and I thought it time to get down to brass tacks. "Dr. House, Dr. Wilson. We're actually not patients at all; we're here on business. We're bond enforcement agents."
"Bounty hunters," Lula amplified.
"Bounty hunters?" Wilson repeated.
"Like Boba Fett?" House said hopefully.
"Well, not exactly," I said. "My name is Stephanie Plum, and this is Lula. We work for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds."
"Oh crap," Wilson said suddenly, and looked away from House.
I addressed Wilson. "Your brother Jonathan didn't show up for his court appearance yesterday, so we're looking for him. We thought he might be here, as you stood bond--"
"You did what?" House shouted, turning towards Wilson. "You stood bond for your useless piss-head brother? Wilson, you're an idiot!"
"Oh, I'm only allowed to bail someone out if it's you?" Wilson said, a defensive note in his voice. "He's my only brother, House, he asked me for help--and he wouldn't have done if he wasn't desperate--I couldn't just leave him in the lurch."
"Always with the excuses for him!" House picked up his cane and slammed it into a nearby table. "What did he do this time? Pick a fight with a defenseless cripple?"
"It was just a disorderly charge. Jon explained it all to me. He had a few drinks, there was a bar fight, he got arrested, he was unlucky. It happens, right?" Wilson spread out his hands. "He's had a hard time financially recently, since his divorce--he's paying alimony through the nose--"
"Yeah, and you can empathize with that alright," House said viciously.
"House," Wilson said simply, pleadingly, and House looked at him, and Wilson looked back, and House fell silent.
"So, Dr. Wilson, is your brother here in Princeton?" I asked, still hopeful that we hadn't wasted this trip.
"No, he's not. If he's not in his own home, I don't know where he is. Propping up a bar somewhere, probably. He'll show up when he's sober." Wilson threw his hands up in disgust. "And as there's no consult, I'm going back to the stage four patient I left a few minutes ago. I'll see you later, House."
Wilson left, slamming the door behind him.
House watched him go, then turned to us with a speculative look in his eye.
"Buy me lunch and I'll tell you everything I know about Jonathan Wilson," he said.
Over sandwiches and fries in the Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital cafeteria, House spilled what he knew about Jonathan, which wasn't a great deal.
"He's been married twice and had a set of twin daughters with each wife, if you can credit it. The older twins are grown-up, in their twenties, identical, gorgeous, tits and ass to die for." House gobbled fries.
"Where do they live?" I asked, thinking that Jonathan might have gone to visit a grown-up daughter.
"New York. Wilson will have addresses somewhere. They were bright enough to get out of Trenton years ago."
"And the younger daughters?"
"They're just kids. Their mom finally got fed up enough to divorce their dad last year. He's a miserable drunken philandering lout, in case you haven't picked up on that."
"Two sets of twins is unusual, it must really run in the family." I thought aloud. "He and James aren't twins, are they?"
House grinned. "No. Jonathan's a few years older." He hesitated, as if he'd been about to say something more.
"And--" I prompted.
"And Wilson-—my Wilson-—makes excuses for him, but Jon is a rude intolerant lush and always has been." House shrugged. "About the only thing they have in common apart from some DNA is multiple divorces."
I was ninety-nine percent sure that that hadn't been what House had been about to say when he'd hesitated. The divorce thing was too interesting to pass up, though. "How many divorces?"
"Five between them. Jon's been divorced twice and James three times." House finished his own fries and moved his hand to pluck one off my plate.
"Divorced three times? That nice Dr. Wilson?" Lula asked. "Three women got him down the aisle but couldn't stick with him? Not for those brown eyes, that silky hair--"
"It's the ugly ties they can't put up with." House winked, as if giving out inside information. "Everyone thinks he's the nice one. Whereas actually I'm the nice one, and he's the one with a dark side. He just hides it better."
"Like you sure hide your nice side." Lula dared say what I was thinking. House looked pleased rather than offended.
"Can you tell us where Dr. Wilson lives?" I asked.
"You think Jonathan's hiding in his closet?" House looked skeptical.
"You ever want to get Jon angry, tell him you think he's in the closet." House dunked a fry in ketchup. "He's not at Wilson's apartment. I'd know."
"Does Dr. Wilson live on his own?"
House looked vaguely amused, though I couldn't see any reason why. "He's had his own apartment since his girlfriend died in a bus crash a few years ago."
"Oh." That was sad, poor guy. A dead girlfriend, how tragic.
"You drive, I'll take you there." House planted his cane on the floor and levered himself up.
House used a key on what looked like his regular key chain to let us into Wilson's apartment. First impression from the living room was of a nice place, light colors, big windows, big screen TV. Tidy, not much junk lying around. House called out, "Hey!" as we walked in, but nobody came rushing in from any other rooms, and it was quiet.
House threw himself down in a chair and made himself comfortable while Lula and I prepared to look around. The first thing I saw was a light blinking on the answering machine. I pressed it and to our collective surprise, the voice that came out of the speaker was that of Dr. Wilson himself.
"Hey Jon, your cell's switched off. Look, there's some people looking for you--bounty hunters, Jon, for fuck's sake--you need to get back to Trenton."
"A-ha," Lula sang out.
I took a look at House and found him open-mouthed with what looked like genuine disbelief. "Did that message say what I thought?"
"If you mean your pal Wilson's been shielding his no-good bro, it sure sounded like it to me," Lula said.
House shook his head. "I do not fucking well believe it. Wilson, the idiot! I'm going to--"
But then there came a sound of someone right outside the front door, a key in the lock. We all froze, then the door handle turned, the door swung open, and in stepped the man in the mug shot in my file. Jonathan Wilson himself.