Authors: Janet Evanovich
I took a seat at the small kitchen table and dropped my bag onto the floor.
“Are you after Jimmy Poletti?” Grandma asked. “I heard he skipped out on his bail bond.”
“I talked to his wife and both his sons, and no one seems to like him or know where he’s hiding.”
“Yeah, he’s a real stinker. His own mother didn’t even like him.”
“I tried to talk to her too, but she’s dead.”
“I heard,” Grandma said. “Rose Krabchek called an hour ago. Mrs. Poletti is going to be laid out at the funeral home on Hamilton. It’s going to be a good viewing. She’s high-profile now that her son is a fugitive.”
The Burg doesn’t have a movie theater, so everyone goes to viewings at the funeral parlor on Hamilton Avenue.
“Any gossip going around about Jimmy?” I asked Grandma.
“Haven’t heard anything that would be useful. He had a house at the shore, but I’m told it washed away with that last hurricane. I saw pictures, and the beach isn’t even there. What happens with that? Does he own part of the ocean?”
My mother put plates and paper napkins on the kitchen table. “Who wants a meatloaf sandwich?”
I raised my hand. “With lots of ketchup.”
“And chips,” Grandma said. “I want one with chips and a pickle.”
My mother is an older version of me with shorter brown hair and a thicker waist. My grandmother used to resemble my mother, but gravity’s taken its toll and now Grandma has slack skin the color and texture of a soup chicken and steel gray hair permed into tight curls. She’s of an age where she’s fearless and has enough energy to light up Cleveland.
“Jimmy Poletti wasn’t real popular with his family,” Grandma said, “but he sure could sell cars. He was one of them personable people on television. If I was in the market, I’d buy a car from him. He was always dressed up in a nice suit, and you could see he had a good package.”
“He was selling girls out of the back room in his car dealership,” my mother said. “He’s a disgusting human being.”
“I didn’t say he was a good person,” Grandma said. “I just said he had an impressive package. ’Course, maybe he faked it. Like he could have put tennis balls in his Calvins. Or he could have padded them with toilet paper. Do you think men do that?”
I had two men in my life, and neither of them needed tennis balls.
My mother brought the meatloaf sandwiches to the table and took a seat. “I’d see his second wife at mass sometimes. Sometimes she’d have bruises. Just terrible. She’d be praying and crying, poor woman. We were all relieved when she left him.”
“I met his
wife,” I said. “I don’t think she’s going to be in church crying and praying.”
“You just never know,” my mother said. “A man like that doesn’t value life. He would do anything.”
“This is good meatloaf,” my grandmother said, taking a bite of her sandwich. “I like that you put barbecue sauce on top of it.”
“I saw it on the Food Network,” my mother said.
“And it’s real moist.”
My mother chewed and swallowed. “I soaked it in bourbon.”
I LEFT MY
parents’ house and returned to my apartment. I have some search programs on my computer, and I thought I’d do some snooping around on Poletti. I live in a perfectly okay but not fantastic apartment building on the north edge of Trenton. The building has a fancy door that fronts the street but is never used. Everyone parks in the large lot at the rear. Eighty percent of the residents are senior citizens who wear their handicapped status as a badge of honor and judge the quality of their day by how close they’re able to park to the building’s back door.
My apartment has one bedroom, one bathroom, a small kitchen, and a combined living-and-dining room. My furniture is sparse and mostly secondhand from relatives who made their initial purchases in 1950.
I’d just plugged Jimmy Poletti into a background search program when someone pounded on my door. I went to the
door, looked out the security peephole, and saw nothing. I turned to go back to my computer and there was more pounding. I did another look out the peephole.
“Down here,” someone yelled. “Look down, you moron.”
I knew the voice. Randy Briggs. Not one of my favorite people. He was my age, with sandy blond hair. He was about three feet tall. And he was cranky.
I opened the door. “What?”
“How is that for a greeting?” he said, pushing past me into my apartment. “It’s because I’m short, right? You hate me because I’m short.”
“I don’t care that you’re short. I like lots of things that are short. Little dogs and daffodils. I hate you because you’re mean as a snake. Would it kill you to be nice?”
He looked up at me. “Why do you say that? Did you hear something?”
“About killing. Like that someone wants to kill me.”
“So far as I know, everyone who meets you wants to kill you.”
“I’m serious. Did you hear about a contract?”
“Yeah. I’m in trouble.” He went into my kitchen and looked around. “You got anything to drink? I could use a drink. Vodka rocks would be good.”
“I haven’t got any vodka.”
“How about wine? You got a nice pinot noir?”
“I think I have a beer.”
“I’ll take it.”
I opened the beer and handed it to him. He chugged it down, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and gave me the empty bottle.
“I suppose you want to know about the contract,” he said.
“How could you not want to know?”
“Easy. Not my business.”
“Yeah, but we’re friends.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Boy, that’s harsh. After all we’ve been through together.” He went back out into the hall and returned with a duffel bag.
“What’s that?” I asked, staring down at the bag.
“My stuff. I need a place to stay.”
“I don’t like you.”
“Yeah, but my apartment got blown up. I need to stay with someone who’s got a gun.”
“Oh no. No, no, no, no.”
“I won’t be any trouble. Look at me. I’m little. You won’t even know I’m here.”
“I know you’re here because I have a sharp burning pain behind my left eyeball.”
I grabbed his duffel bag and ran for the door with it. He grabbed my leg, and I went down to one knee a couple feet short of the door.
I tried to shake him loose. “Let go!”
“Not until you say I can stay.”
“Please, please, please. I’ll be nice. You gotta help me. I don’t want to die. Jimmy Poletti is trying to kill me.”
“Yeah, he looks nice on television but he’s a nasty bugger.”
“Why does he want to kill you?”
“I did his bookkeeping. I know all his secrets. The money laundering, the payoffs, the offshore accounts.”
“He obviously hired you because he knew you were a slime bucket, so why does he suddenly think you’re a threat?”
“When he got arrested, the cops were climbing all over everything. We managed to get rid of the paperwork, but I’m left swinging in the wind.”
“He’s worried you’d rat him out?”
“Have you gone to the police?”
“No. I’m sort of implicated in the cooked books. At first, my choice was to die or try a plea deal, but then I thought of you. If you can bring Poletti in, he’ll get locked up for a hundred years and he won’t kill me. And I won’t have to talk to the police.”
“Okay, I’ll buy all that. But why do you have to stay
“No one else will let me in.”
“I’d buy that too.”
“You gotta help me,” Briggs said. “I’m a dead man without you. You know what’s left of my apartment? It’s in that duffel
bag. Good thing I was in the basement doing laundry when he rocketed the firebomb through my living room window. The guy’s nuts!”
And he wanted Randy Briggs. And I had Randy Briggs. So maybe I could somehow use Briggs as bait to capture Jimmy Poletti.
“What?” Briggs said. “You’ve got that look. The scary look that means you’re thinking.”
“I might let you stay if you’ll help me find Poletti.”
“Anything.” He released my leg. “What do you want to know?”
I took my hands off the duffel bag and stood. “Do you have any idea where he’s hiding?”
“Not exactly,” Briggs said, “but I know where he owns property, and I know some of his mob friends.”
“Would his mob friends hide him?”
“Depends if they thought they could get their hands on his money. He’s got a
of money stashed away.”
“Do you know where the money is stashed?”
“Who, me? No.”
“You do! That’s why he wants to kill you.”
“It’s not like I have access to it. I just might know where he keeps it.”
Oh boy. “What else?”
“That’s it. I swear.”
I spread a map of Trenton out on my dining room table. “Where are his properties?”
“There’s the three dealerships,” Briggs said. “You know
about them. Then there’s a parking garage where he keeps his inventory. It’s by the government buildings. He rents part of it out. It’s at the corner of State Street and Norton. So far as I know there aren’t any offices in it. It’s just parking. He has the house in West Trenton. I’m sure you’ve already been there and met Poletti’s soulmate.” Briggs gave an involuntary shiver. “She scares the crap out of me. They had a house at the shore, but it floated out to sea. He owns a slum on Stark Street that operates as a rooming house. And he owns houses in North Trenton that he rents out.”
Briggs used my red Sharpie to put dots on the map, showing the property locations.
“And his friends?” I asked.
“He doesn’t exactly have friends. He has
. They all played poker together, and they hung out in the back room of the dealership on Route 41. It was like a social club. Bernie Scootch, Ron Siglowski, Buster Poletti, who’s a cousin, Silvio Pepper, and Tommy Ritt. I’m told two of them have disappeared. Bernie Scootch and Ron Siglowski. They could be with Jimmy or they could be dead.”
“Do you think Jimmy’s cleaning house?”
Briggs shrugged. “He tried to get me while I was crossing a street yesterday. Tried to run me over, but I got out of the way in time. He took a shot at me and missed. And then this morning someone sent a firebomb through my window.”
“Are you sure it was Jimmy?”
“It was Jimmy yesterday. I got a good look at him. I guess I don’t know about this morning, but I know he’s got rocket
launchers and flamethrowers. He has a place in the Pine Barrens where he goes with the guys to shoot and blow stuff up. I don’t exactly know where it is.”
“What was he driving yesterday?”
“The Mustang. I rode in it once. It’s all tricked out. Black and silver. Real sweet ride.”
“So where do you think I should start looking for Jimmy?”
“If all he wanted to do was hide, I’d say the Pine Barrens until he could get out of the country. Since he seems to want to kill me, I’d have to go more local. Maybe the slum on Stark Street. Or maybe you want to look in the parking garage. See if there’s an RV with the air-conditioning running.”
I folded up the map and tucked it into my messenger bag. “Let’s go.”
“Are you sure you want to take me? I’ve got a big bull’s-eye painted on my back.”
This was true. And it was the only reason I was even talking to him. Still, I didn’t want to hang him out there unless I absolutely had no other choice. No point putting myself in harm’s way of stray bullets, right? On the other hand, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him alone in my apartment.
“You can stay in the office while I go look for Poletti. I’ll drop you off and pick Lula up.”
“No,” Connie said. “No way. No how. You can’t leave him here.”
“I can’t take him with me,” I told her. “People will shoot at us.”
“Why can’t you leave him in your apartment?”
“He’ll buy pay-per-view porn and go through my underwear drawer.”
We all looked at Briggs.
“He can’t even
your underwear drawer,” Lula said.
“I can stand on a chair,” Briggs said.
“How about we take my Firebird and lock him in the trunk,” Lula said.
“How about we auction you off by the pound for a pig roast,” Briggs said.
Lula shoved her hand into her purse and started rummaging around. “I got a gun in here somewhere.”
“You can’t shoot him,” I said.
“I need him to get Poletti. Anyway, you know you can’t just go around shooting people. It isn’t nice.”
“Yeah, but he insulted me.”
“You insulted me first,” Briggs said. “How’d
like to get locked in a trunk?”
“People wouldn’t want to lock me in a trunk on account of I got a pleasing personality,” Lula said.
“Maybe for a rhinoceros,” Briggs said.
I stepped in front of Briggs to keep Lula from hurling herself across the room at him. “I haven’t got time for this. I need to get Poletti. We’ll take Randy with us, and we’ll disguise him
somehow. A hat or something, and he can scrunch down in the backseat.”