One for the money, p.17
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       One for the Money, p.17
Download  in MP3 audio

         Part #1 of Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

  “Probably on a car phone.”

  I agreed.

  “Here's my card.” He wrote a number on the back. “This is my home phone. You see Ramirez, or you get another call, get in touch right away.”

  “It'll be hard for him to hide,” I said. “He's a local celebrity. He's easy to recognize.”

  Dorsey returned his pen to an inside jacket pocket, and I got a glimpse of his hip holster. “There are a lot of people in this city who'll go out of their way to hide and protect Benito Ramirez. We've been this route with him before.”

  “Yes, but you've never had a tape.”

  “True. The tape might make a difference.”

  “Won't make no difference,” Jackie said when Dorsey left. “Ramirez do what he want. Nobody cares about him beating on a whore.”

  “We care,” I said to Jackie. “We can stop him. We can get Lula to testify against him.”

  “Hunh,” Jackie said. “You don't know much.”

  It was three before we were allowed to see Lula. She hadn't regained consciousness and was in ICU. Our visit was restricted to ten minutes each. I squeezed her hand and promised her she'd be okay. When my time was up, I told Jackie I had an appointment I needed to keep. She said she was staying until Lula opened her eyes.

  I got to Sunny's a half hour before Gazarra. I paid my fee, bought a box of shells, and went back to the range. I shot a few with the hammer pulled back, and then settled in for serious practice. I envisioned Ramirez in front of the target. I aimed for his heart, his balls, his nose.

  Gazarra came on the range at four-thirty. He dropped a new box of shells on my loading table and took the booth next to me. By the time I was done with both boxes I was pleasantly relaxed and feeling comfortable with my gun. I loaded five rounds and slid the gun back into my bag. I tapped Gazarra on the shoulder and motioned that I was done.

  He holstered his Glock and followed me out. We waited until we were in the parking lot to talk.

  “I heard the call come in,” he said. “Sorry I couldn't get to you. I was in the middle of something. I saw Dorsey at the station. He said you were cool. Said you switched on the recorder when Ramirez came on the line.”

  “You should have seen me five minutes before. I couldn't remember 911.”

  “I don't suppose you'd consider taking a vacation?”

  “It's crossed my mind.”

  “You got your gun in your pocketbook?”

  “Hell no, that would be breaking the law.”

  Gazarra sighed. “Just don't let anyone see it, okay? And call me if you get spooked. You're welcome to stay with Shirley and me for as long as you want.”

  “I appreciate it.”

  “I checked on the plate number you gave me. The plates belong to a vehicle seized for a parking violation, impounded, and never retrieved.”

  “I saw Morelli driving said vehicle.”

  “He probably borrowed it.”

  We both smiled at the thought of Morelli driving a vehicle stolen from the impound yard.

  “What about Carmen Sanchez? Does she have a car?”

  Gazarra dug a piece of paper out of his pocket. "This is the make and her license number. It hasn't been impounded.

  “You want me to follow you home? Make sure your apartment's safe?”

  “Not necessary. Half the building's population is probably still camped out in my hall.”

  What I really dreaded was facing the blood. I was going to have to walk into my apartment and face the grisly aftermath of Ramirez's handiwork. Lula's blood would still be on the phone, the walls, the countertops, and the floor. If the sight of that blood triggered a renewed rush of hysteria, I wanted to deal with it alone, in my own way.

  I parked in the lot and slipped into the building unnoticed. Good timing, I thought. The halls were clear. Everyone was eating dinner. I had my defense spray in my hand and my gun wedged under my waistband. I turned the key in the lock and felt my stomach lurch. Just get it over with, I told myself. Barge right in, check under the bed for rapists, pull on some rubber gloves, and clean up the mess.

  I took a tentative step into my foyer, and realized someone was in my apartment. Someone was cooking in the kitchen, making cozy cooking sounds, clanking pots and running water. Under the clanking I could hear food sizzling in a frying pan.

  “Hello,” I called, gun now in hand, barely able to hear myself over the pounding of my heart. “Who's here?”

  Morelli sauntered out of the kitchen. “Just me. Put the gun away. We need to talk.”

  “Jesus! You are so fucking arrogant. Did it ever occur to you I might shoot you with this gun?”

  “No. It never occurred to me.”

  “I've been practicing. I'm a pretty good shot.”

  He moved behind me, closed and locked the door. “Yeah, I'll bet you're hell on wheels blasting the shit out of those paper men.”

  “What are you doing in my apartment?”

  “I'm cooking dinner.” He went back to his sautéing. “Rumor has it you've had a tough day.”

  My mind was spinning. I'd been wracking my brain, trying to find Morelli, and here he was in my apartment. He even had his back turned to me. I could shoot him in the butt.

  “You don't want to shoot an unarmed man,” he said, reading my thoughts. “The state of New Jersey frowns on that sort of thing. Take it from someone who knows.”

  All right, so I wouldn't shoot him. I'd zap him with the Sure Guard. His neurotransmitters wouldn't know what hit them.

  Morelli added some fresh sliced mushrooms to the pan and continued to cook, sending heavenly food smells wafting my way. He was stirring red and green peppers, onions, and mushrooms, and my killer instincts were weakening in direct proportion to the amount of saliva pooling in my mouth.

  I found myself rationalizing a decision to hold off on the spray, telling myself I needed to hear him out, but the ugly truth was my motives weren't nearly so worthy. I was hungry and depressed, and I was a lot more frightened of Ramirez than I was of Joe Morelli. In fact, I suppose in a bizarre way, I felt safe with Morelli in my apartment.

  One crisis at a time, I decided. Have some dinner. Gas him for dessert.

  He turned and looked at me. “You want to talk about it?”

  “Ramirez almost killed Lula and hung her on my fire escape.”

  “Ramirez is like a fungus that feeds on fear. You ever see him in the ring? His fans love him because he goes the distance unless the referee calls the fight. He plays with his opponent. Loves to draw blood. Loves to punish. And all the time he's punishing, he's talking to his victim in that soothing voice of his, telling them how much worse it's going to get, telling them he'll only stop when they beg to get knocked out. He's like that with women. Likes to see them squirm in fear and pain. Likes to leave his mark.”

  I dumped my pocketbook on the counter. “I know. He's very large on mutilation and begging. In fact, you might say he's obsessed with it.”

  Morelli turned the heat down. “I'm trying to scare you, but I don't think it's working.”

  “I'm all scared out. I don't have any more scare left in me. Maybe tomorrow.” I looked around and realized someone had cleaned up the blood. “Did you scrub the kitchen?”

  “The kitchen and the bedroom. You're going to have to have your carpet professionally cleaned.”

  “Thank you. I wasn't looking forward to seeing more blood today.”

  “Was it bad?”

  “Yeah. Her face is battered almost beyond recognition, and she was bleeding . . . everywhere.” My voice broke and hitched in my throat. I looked down at the floor. “Shit.”

  “I have wine in the refrigerator. Why don't you trade in that gun for a couple glasses?”

  “Why are you being nice to me?”

  “I need you.”

  “Oh boy.”

  “Not that way.”

  “I wasn't thinking 'that way.' All I said was oh boy. What are you making?”

  “Steak. I put it in when you
pulled into the parking lot.” He poured the wine and gave me a glass. “You're living a little Spartan here.”

  “I lost my job and couldn't get another. I sold off my furniture to keep going.”

  “That's when you decided to work for Vinnie?”

  “I didn't have a lot of options.”

  “So you're after me for the money. It's nothing personal.”

  “In the beginning it wasn't.”

  He was moving around my kitchen like he'd lived there all his life, setting plates on the counter, pulling a bowl of salad from the refrigerator. It should have seemed invasive and pushy, but it was actually very comfortable.

  He flipped a rib steak onto each plate, covered them with the peppers and onions, and added a foil-wrapped baked potato. He set out salad dressing, sour cream, and steak sauce, shut the broiler off, and wiped his hands on a kitchen towel. “Why is it personal now?”

  “You chained me to the shower rod! Then you made me go rooting around in a Dumpster to get my keys! Every time I catch up to you, you do everything possible to humiliate me.”

  “They weren't your keys. They were my keys.” He took a sip of wine, and our eyes locked. “You stole my car.”

  “I had a plan.”

  “You were going to snag me when I came after my car?”

  “Something like that.”

  He carried his plate to the table. “I hear Macy's has openings for make-over ladies.”

  “You sound like my mother.”

  Morelli grinned and dug into his steak.

  The day had been exhausting, and the wine and good food were mellowing me out. We were eating at the table, sitting across from each other, absorbed in the meal like an old married couple. I cleaned my plate and pushed back in my chair. “What do you need from me?”

  “Cooperation. And in return for that cooperation, I'll see to it that you collect your bounty money.”

  “You've got my attention.”

  "Carmen Sanchez was an informant. One night I'm sitting home watching television, and I get a call from her asking for help. She says she's been raped and beaten. She says she needs money, and she needs a safe place to stay, and in return she's going to give me something big.

  "When I get to her apartment Ziggy Kulesza answers the door, and Carmen is nowhere in sight. Another guy, better known as the missing witness, comes out of the bedroom, recognizes me from who-knows-where, and panics. 'This guy's a cop,' he yells to Ziggy. 'I can't believe you opened the door to a goddamn cop.'

  “Ziggy draws a gun on me. I return fire and shoot him almost point-blank. Next thing I know, I'm staring at the ceiling. The second guy is gone. Carmen's gone. Ziggy's gun is gone.”

  “How could he have missed you at such close range? And if he missed you, where'd the bullet go?”

  “The only explanation I can come up with is that the gun misfired.”

  “And now you want to find Carmen so Carmen can back up your story.”

  "I don't think Carmen's going to be backing up anyone's story. My guess is she was beaten up by Ramirez, and Ziggy and his pal were sent to finish the job. Ziggy did all Ramirez's dirty work.

  “When you're out on the street like I am, you hear things. Ramirez likes to punish women. Sometimes women last seen in his company are known to disappear. I think he gets carried away and kills them, or maybe he hurts them so bad he has to send someone to finish the job to keep things quiet. Then the body vanishes. No body. No crime. I think Carmen was dead in the bedroom when I arrived. That's why Ziggy freaked.”

  “There's only one door,” I said, “and no one saw her leave . . . dead or alive.”

  “There's a window in the bedroom that overlooks the service road.”

  “You think Carmen was pitched out the window?”

  Morelli took his plate into the kitchen and started coffee brewing. “I'm looking for the guy who recognized me. Ziggy dropped the gun when he hit the floor. I saw it skitter to the side. When I got hit from behind, Ziggy's partner must have taken the gun, slipped off into the bedroom, dumped Carmen out the window, and followed her.”

  “I've been back there. It's a long drop if you're not dead.”

  Morelli shrugged. “Maybe he was able to slide through the crowd hovering over Ziggy and me. Then he went out the back door, collected Carmen, and drove off.”

  “I want to hear the part about me getting the $10,000.”

  “You help me prove I shot Kulesza in self-defense, and I'll let you bring me in.”

  “I can hardly wait to hear how I'm going to do this.”

  "The only link I have to the missing witness is Ramirez. I've been watching him, but nothing's come of it. Unfortunately, my movements are getting restricted. I've called in just about every favor I had out there. Lately, I've been spending more hours hiding than looking. I feel like I'm running out of time and ideas.

  “You're the one person no one would suspect of helping me,” Morelli said.

  “Why would I want to help you? Why don't I just use the opportunity to turn you in?”

  “Because I'm innocent.”

  “That's your problem, not mine.” It was a hardass answer and not entirely the truth. The truth was, I'd actually started to feel kind of soft on Morelli.

  “Then let's up the ante for you. While you're helping me find my witness, I'll be protecting you from Ramirez.”

  I almost said I didn't need protection, but that was absurd. I needed all the protection I could get. “What happens when Dorsey picks up Ramirez and I no longer need your protection?”

  “Ramirez will be out on bail and twice as hungry. He has some powerful friends.”

  “And how are you going to protect me?”

  “I'm going to guard your body, Sweet Cakes.”

  “You're not sleeping in my apartment.”

  “I'll sleep in the van. Tomorrow I'll wire you up for sound.”

  “What about tonight?”

  “It's your decision,” he said. “Probably you'll be okay. My guess is Ramirez wants to play with you a while. This is like a fight for him. He's going to want to go all ten rounds.”

  I agreed. Ramirez could have come crashing through my bedroom window any time he wanted, but he chose to wait.

  “Even if I wanted to help you, I wouldn't know where to begin,” I said. “What could I do that you haven't already done? Maybe the witness is in Argentina.”

  “The witness isn't in Argentina. He's out there killing people. He's killing everyone who can place him at the scene. He's killed two people from Carmen's apartment building and failed in his attempt to murder a third. I'm also on his list, but he can't find me while I'm in hiding, and if I go public to draw him out, the police will get me.”

  The light bulb went on. “You're going to use me as bait. You're going to dangle me in front of Ramirez and expect me to extract information from him while he's coaching me on his torture techniques. Jesus, Morelli, I know you're pissed because I scored you with the Buick, but don't you think this is carrying revenge too far?”

  “It's not revenge. The truth is . . . I like you.” His mouth softened into a seductive smile. “If circumstances were different, I might even try to right some past wrongs.”

  “Oh boy.”

  “I can see when this is all over, we're going to have to do something about that streak of cynicism you've acquired.”

  “You're asking me to put my life on the line to help save your ass.”

  “Your life is already on the line. You're being stalked by a very large man who rapes and mutilates women. If we can find my witness, we can link him to Ramirez and hopefully, put them both away for the rest of their unnatural lives.”

  He had a point.

  “I'll put a bug in your foyer and bedroom,” Morelli said, “and I'll be able to hear throughout your apartment, with the exception of the bathroom. If you close the bathroom door, I probably won't be able to hear. When you go out we'll hide a wire under your shirt, and I'll follow at a distance.”

  I took a deep breath. “And you'll let me collect the finder's fee on you when we get the missing witness?”


  “You said Carmen was an informant. What sort of stuff was she informing about?”

  “She sold whatever scraps came her way. Mostly low-level drug stuff and names of posse members. I don't know what she had for me when she called. I never got it.”

  “Posse members?”

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up