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Authors: Janet Evanovich

18 Explosive Eighteen

BOOK: 18 Explosive Eighteen
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Explosive Eighteen
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by Evanovich, Inc.

Al rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

BANTAM BOOKS and the rooster colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Evanovich, Janet.

Explosive eighteen : a Stephanie Plum novel / Janet Evanovich.

p. cm.

eISBN: 978-0-345-52772-1

1. Plum, Stephanie (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2.

Women bounty hunters—Fiction. 3. Trenton (N. J.)—

Fiction. I. Title.

PS3555.V2126E97 2011

813′.54—dc23 2011041095

www.bantamdel .com

Jacket art and design: Carlos Beltrán v3.1

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Other Books by This Author

About the Author

ONE

NEW JERSEY WAS 40,000 FEET below me, obscured by cloud cover. Heaven was above me, beyond the thin skin of the plane. And hel was sitting four rows back. Okay, maybe hel was too strong.

Maybe it was just purgatory.

My name is Stephanie Plum, and I work as a bail-bonds enforcer for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds in Trenton, New Jersey. I’d recently inherited airline vouchers from a dead guy and used them to take a once-in-a-lifetime Hawaiian vacation. Unfortunately, the vacation didn’t go as planned, and I’d been forced to leave Hawaii ahead of schedule, like a thief sneaking off in the dead of night. I’d abandoned two angry men in Honolulu, cal ed my friend Lula, and asked her to pick me up at Newark Airport.

As if my life wasn’t enough in the toilet, I was now on the plane home, seated four rows ahead of a guy who looked like Sasquatch and was snoring like a bear in a cave. Good thing I wasn’t sitting next to him, because I surely would have strangled him in his sleep by now. I was wearing airline-distributed earphones pumped up to maximum volume, but they weren’t helping. The snoring had started somewhere over Denver and got real y ugly over Kansas City.

After several loud passenger comments suggesting someone take the initiative and smother the guy, flight attendants confiscated al the pil ows and began passing out free alcoholic beverages. Three-quarters of the plane was now desperately drunk, and the remaining quarter was either underage or alternatively medicated. Two of the underage were screaming-crying, and I was pretty sure the kid behind me had pooped in his pants.

I was among the drunk. I was wondering how I was going to walk off the plane and navigate the terminal with any sort of dignity, and I was hoping my ride was waiting for me.

Sasquatch gave an extra loud
snork
, and I ground my teeth together. Just land this friggin’ plane, I thought. Land it in a cornfield, on a highway, in the ocean. Just get me out of here!

• • •

Lula pul ed into my apartment building parking lot, and I thanked her for picking me up at the airport and bringing me home.

“No problemo,” she said, dropping me at the back door to the lobby. “There wasn’t nothing on television, and I’m between honeys, so it wasn’t like I was leaving anything good behind.”

I waved her off and trudged into my apartment building. I took the elevator to the second floor, dragged my luggage down the hal and into my apartment, and shuffled into my bedroom.

It was after midnight, and I was exhausted. My vacation in Hawaii had been
unique
, and the flight home had been hel ish. Turbulence over the Pacific, a layover in L.A., and the snoring. I closed my eyes and tried to calm myself. I was back to work tomorrow, but for now I had to make a choice. I was completely out of clean clothes. That meant I could be a slut and sleep naked, or I could be a slob and sleep in what I was wearing.

Truth is, I’m not entirely comfortable sleeping naked. I do it from time to time, but I worry that God might be watching or that my mother might find out, and I’m pretty sure they both think nice girls should wear pajamas to bed.

In this case, being a slob required less effort, and that’s where I chose to go.

Unfortunately, I was in the same wardrobe predicament when I dragged myself out of bed the next morning, so I emptied my suitcase into my laundry basket, grabbed the messenger bag that serves as a purse, and headed for my parents’

house. I could use my mom’s washer and dryer, and I thought I had some emergency clothes left in their spare bedroom. Plus, they’d been babysitting my hamster, Rex, while I was away, and I wanted to retrieve him.

I live in a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment in an aging three-story brick-faced apartment building located on the edge of Trenton. On a good traffic day, at four in the morning, it’s a ten-minute drive to my parents’ house or the bonds office. Al other times, it’s a crapshoot.

Grandma Mazur was at the front door when I pul ed to the curb and parked. She’s lived with my parents since Grandpa Mazur took the big escalator to the heavenly food court in the sky. Sometimes I think my father wouldn’t mind seeing Grandma step onto that very same escalator, but I can’t see it happening anytime soon. Her steel-gray hair was cut short and tightly curled on her head. Her nails matched her bright red lipstick. Her lavender-and-white running suit hung slack on her bony shoulders.

“What a good surprise,” Grandma said, opening the door to me. “Welcome home. We’re dying to hear al about the vacation with the hottie.” My parents’ home is a modest duplex, sharing a common wal with its mirror image. Mrs. Ciak lives in the other half. Her husband has passed on, and she spends her days baking coffee cake and watching television. The outside of her half is painted pale green, and the exterior of my parents’ house is mustard yel ow and brown. It’s not an attractive combination, but it feels comfortable to me since it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. Each half of the house has a postage-stamp front yard, a smal covered front porch, a back stoop leading to a long narrow backyard, and a detached single-car garage.

I lugged the laundry basket through the living room and dining room to the kitchen, where my mother was chopping vegetables.

“Soup?” I asked her.

“Minestrone. Are you coming for dinner?”

“Can’t. Got plans.”

My mother glanced at the laundry basket. “I just put a load of sheets into the washer. If you leave that here, I’l do it later for you. How was Hawaii? We didn’t expect you home until tomorrow.”

“Hawaii was good, but the plane ride was long.

Fortunately, I sat next to a guy who got off when we stopped in L.A., so I had more room.”

“Yeah, but you were also next to Mr. Tal , Dark, and Handsome.” Grandma said.

“Not exactly.”

This got both their attentions.

“How so?” Grandma asked.

“It’s complicated. He didn’t fly back with me.” Grandma stared at my left hand. “You got a tan, except on your ring finger. It looks like you were wearing a ring when you got a tan, but you’re not wearing it no more.”

I looked at my hand. Bummer. When I took the ring off, I hadn’t noticed a tan line.

“Now I know why you went to Hawaii,” Grandma said. “I bet you eloped! Of course, being that you don’t got the ring on anymore would put a damper on the celebration.”

I blew out a sigh, poured myself a cup of coffee, and my phone rang. I dug around in my bag, unable to find the phone in the jumble of stuff I’d crammed in for the plane trip. I dumped it al out onto the little kitchen table and pawed through it. Granola bars, hairbrush, lip balm, hair scrunchies, notepad, wal et, socks, two magazines, a large yel ow envelope, floss, mini flashlight, travel pack of tissues, three pens, and my phone.

The cal er was Connie Rosol i, the bail bonds office manager. “I hope you’re on your way to the office,” she said, “because we have a situation here.”

“What sort of situation?”

“A bad one.”

“How bad? Can it wait twenty minutes?”

“Twenty minutes sounds like a long time.” I disconnected and stood. “Gotta go,” I said to my mother and grandmother.

“But you just got here,” Grandma said. “We didn’t get to hear about the eloping.”

“I didn’t elope.”

I returned everything to my messenger bag, with the exception of the phone and the yel ow envelope. I put the phone in an outside pocket, and I looked at the envelope. No writing on it. Sealed. I had no clue how it had gotten into my bag. I ripped it open and pul ed a photograph out. It was an 8×10 glossy of a man. He was standing on a street corner, looking just past the photographer. He looked like he didn’t know he was being photographed, like someone had happened along with their cel phone camera and snapped his picture. He was possibly midthirties to early forties, and nice looking in a button-down kind of way. Short brown hair. Fair-skinned. Wearing a dark suit. I didn’t recognize the street corner or the man. Somehow on the trip home, I must have picked the envelope up by mistake—

maybe when I stopped at the newsstand in the airport.

“Who’s that?” Grandma asked.

“I don’t know. I guess I snatched it up with a magazine.”

“He’s kind of hot. Is there a name on the back?”

“Nope. Nothing.”

“Too bad,” Grandma said. “He’s a looker, and I’m thinking about becoming a cougar.”

My mother cut her eyes to the cupboard where she kept her whiskey. She glanced at the clock on the wal and gave up a smal sigh of regret. Too early.

I dropped the envelope and the photo into the trash, chugged my coffee, grabbed a bagel from the bag on the counter, and ran upstairs to change.

Twenty minutes later, I was at the bonds office. I use the term
office
lightly since we were operating out of a converted motor coach parked on Hamilton Avenue directly in front of the construction site for a new brick-and-mortar office. The new construction had been made necessary by a fire of suspicious origin that total y destroyed the original building.

My cousin Vinnie bought the bus from a friend of mine, and while it wasn’t perfect, it was better than setting up shop in the food court at the mal .

Connie’s car was parked behind the coach, and Vinnie’s car was parked behind Connie’s.

Vinnie is a good bail bondsman but a boil on my family’s backside. In the past, he’s been a gambler, a womanizer, a philanderer, a card cheat, and I’m pretty sure he once had a romantic encounter with a duck. He looks like a weasel in pointy-toed shoes and too-tight pants. His father-in-law, Harry the Hammer, for al purposes owns the agency, and due to

recent

scandalous

events

involving

misappropriated money, gambling, and whoring, Vinnie’s wife, Lucil e, now owns Vinnie.

I parked my junker Toyota RAV4 behind Vinnie’s Caddy, and checked out the scene in front of me.

The cinder-block shel of the new bonds office was complete. The roof was on. Workers were inside banging in nails and using power tools. I looked from the construction site to the bonds bus, where I could see light creeping out from drawn shades. It al looked like business as usual.

I wrenched the coach door open and climbed the three steps up to the cockpit and beyond. Connie was at the dinette table, her purse on the bench seat next to her. Her laptop computer was closed.

Connie is a couple years older than me and a much better shot with a gun. She was wearing a magenta sweater with a deep V-neck, showing more cleavage than I could ever hope to grow. Her black hair had recently been straightened and was pul ed up into a messy knot on the top of her head. She was wearing big chunky gold earrings and a matching necklace.

She stood when she saw me. “I’m going downtown to the courthouse,” she said. “I need to bond out Vinnie. He’s been arrested, and they won’t let him write his own bond.”

Oh boy. “Now what?”

“He had a dispute with DeAngelo and took a tire iron to his Mercedes. DeAngelo fired off a couple rounds at Vinnie’s Caddy, Vinnie Tasered DeAngelo, and that’s when the police showed up and dragged them both off to jail.”

BOOK: 18 Explosive Eighteen
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