Authors: Janet Evanovich
“Nothing’s doing,” I told him. “My boyfriend is a workaholic.”
“I’ve got fifteen minutes free. Do you want to… you know?”
“Wow, fifteen whole minutes.”
“Yeah, that’s a minute for me and fourteen for you.”
“Tempting, but I’m going to hold out for at least a half hour.”
“I could throw lunch into the deal if you’re up to multitasking.”
“I’ll meet you at Pino’s for lunch, but you’re going to have to take a rain check on the… you know.”
“Better than nothing,” Morelli said. “High noon.”
Morelli was already at Pino’s when I walked in. He had a corner booth, and he was working his way through a bread basket. He was wearing jeans and an untucked black T-shirt that partially hid the Glock at his hip. His dark hair waved over his ears, and his brown eyes were sharp and assessing.
I slid into the booth across from him. “You have cop eyes,” I said.
He pushed the bread basket my way. “That could change if you wanted to have lunch in the parking lot. Between the gunshot and the double shift I’m missing you… a lot.”
“I miss you too.”
I took a piece of bread and studied him. I’ve known Morelli for most of my life, and I was pretty good at reading his moods.
“There’s more,” I said.
Morelli nodded. “There’s Ralph Rogers.”
“The guy with the dart stuck in his butt. What about him?”
“He was alive last time
“He went into cardiac arrest at the hospital and they couldn’t revive him. Apparently the dart contained some exotic kind of poison. And it contained
“Enough to take down a giraffe?”
“The toxicology report didn’t cover that.”
“I know I’m going to regret asking, but why the interest in giraffes?”
“Lula and I were following a giraffe when we found Rogers lying in the road.”
“This isn’t a substance abuse issue, is it?”
“No. We really saw a giraffe. Lula was conducting some business with Jimmy Spit, and we saw a giraffe gallop past us and turn at Sixteenth Street. A black Cadillac Escalade with
a satellite dish on its roof drove by seconds later, turned at Sixteenth, and there was gunfire. By the time we got to Sixteenth there was no giraffe and no Escalade. And Rogers was lying facedown in the middle of the road.”
“Are you sure it was a giraffe?”
“Skinny legs with knobby knees, yellow with big brown spots, long neck. Yep, I’m pretty sure it was a giraffe. Hasn’t anyone else reported seeing a giraffe in that neighborhood?”
“Not that I’ve heard. I’d ask dispatch, but I’d feel like an idiot.”
“How’s your leg? Are you in pain?”
“No pain at all. I’m loaded up with pain pills. I could set my hair on fire and I wouldn’t feel it.”
“Is it okay for you to be driving?”
“Yeah, they don’t make me drowsy. They just make me nice and numb. Can’t feel my leg. Can’t feel my fingertips or my tongue.”
“Good to know about your fingertips and your tongue. I’m glad we didn’t waste time getting naked in the parking lot.”
Morelli grinned. “I could have managed.”
The waitress brought two meatball subs with extra coleslaw.
“I ordered for both of us when I got here,” Morelli said. “Hope you don’t mind. I’m on a tight schedule. Did Rogers say anything to you?”
I dug into my coleslaw. “No. He was stretched out with a dart in his butt. That’s it.”
“I don’t suppose you got the license plate on the black SUV.”
“Sorry, it flew past me, but how many Escalades have a satellite dish on the roof?”
“Was it a big dish, like for a news station?”
“It was a small dish, like for an idiot drug dealer or a tricked out rapper.”
Morelli took a bite of his sub, and some red sauce leaked out of his mouth and ran down his chin.
“You might want to cut back on those pills,” I told him.
He wiped up with his napkin. “Just in case you intend to spend the rest of your life with me, this is probably what I’m going to look like when I’m ninety.”
“Is that a proposal?”
“No. I’m just saying.” He stopped wiping and looked at me. “What if it
a proposal? Would you say yes?”
“Only one way to find out.”
He smiled again. “I’m saving up for the ring.”
That would have been a terrifying statement if I’d thought for a moment it was true. Morelli is just as unwilling to commit as I am.
“Something to look forward to,” I said.
His smile widened.
We finished our lunch, Morelli got the check, and we slid out of the booth.
“Who’s the unlucky person in your crosshairs today?” he asked.
“He’s in violation of his bond.”
“Walk away from it. Let Vinnie give it to Ranger.”
“Ranger doesn’t do bond enforcement anymore.”
Morelli wrapped his arm around me and ushered me out the door, into the sunshine. “No one is going to help you catch Sunny. And a lot of people are going to stand in your way. Some of them are vicious and crazy.”
“Are you talking about your grandmother?”
“Yes. She’s at the top of the list of vicious, crazy people.”
I gave Morelli a sisterly kiss, got into my Taurus, and drove to my parents’ house. It’s not a fancy house, but it’s home, and I feel safe and comfortable there.
MY PARENTS’ HOUSE is narrow, with three small bedrooms and a bath upstairs. Living room, dining room, and kitchen downstairs. The living room is filled to bursting with overstuffed furniture, end tables, ottomans, lamps, candy dishes, fake flower arrangements, and plastic bins filled with toys for my sister’s kids. The sofa and all the chairs face the television. The rectangular dining room table is always set with a lace cloth and two candlesticks. The table seats eight but has been known to manage nine and a high chair. This leaves just enough space in the room for my niece to gallop around the table, pretending to be a horse. The kitchen is where all important decisions are made: what’s for dinner, where should I go to college, should I have my gallbladder removed, should I go to Andy Melnik’s viewing tonight or watch the Miss America pageant?
Grandma Mazur was at the door when I parked. Grandma moved in with my parents when my grandfather relocated his clogged arteries to a heavenly address. Her hair is steel gray and permed in a style that was fashionable in 1959. She stands straight as a broomstick. She likes a nip of whiskey before going to bed. And lately she’s taken to wearing Pilates pants and tank tops that show the horrifying effects of gravity on slack skin. She’s also a treasure trove of gossip, and she’s my go-to source for underground information. She’d know things about Uncle Sunny that weren’t on Connie’s fact sheet.
“What a nice surprise,” Grandma said. “I was hoping something interesting would come down the street. The cable is out and there’s no television.”
I followed Grandma to the kitchen, where my mother was making minestrone. My mother is the middle child caught between my grandmother and me. She wears her brown hair in a soft bob. Her wardrobe is conservative, heavy on slacks and cotton blouses. Her Catholic faith is strong.
“Have you eaten?” my mother asked. “We have lunch meat from Giovichinni.”
“I’m good,” I told her. “I had lunch with Morelli.”
I set my messenger bag on the floor and pulled a chair up to the small kitchen table. Grandma brought the cookie jar over and sat opposite me. I lifted the lid and took out a Toll House cookie.
“Did you catch any bad guys today?” Grandma asked me. “Were you in any shootouts?”
“No and no.”
I didn’t look over at my mother for fear I’d see her rolling her eyes and reaching for the whiskey bottle. My mother isn’t big on shootouts.
“I’m looking for Uncle Sunny,” I said. “He skipped out on his bond.”
“He’s a slippery one,” Grandma said. “Are you having any luck?”
“No. Lula and I staked out his apartment, but we didn’t see any sign of him.”
Grandma ate a cookie and helped herself to another. “I’d stake out the girlfriend.”
“Sunny has a girlfriend?”
“He’s been seeing Rita Raguzzi for ten years,” Grandma said. “He’s a real ladies’ man, if you know what I mean, but word is he keeps his toothbrush at Rita’s house. He was seeing Rita years before his wife died.”
My mother and grandmother made the sign of the cross.
“His wife should rest in peace,” my mother said. “She was a saint.”
There were Raguzzis sprinkled all over the Burg. Emilio Raguzzi owned an auto body shop, and he and his wife lived across the street from Morelli’s mom. His two sons also lived in the Burg. I didn’t know Rita personally, but I’d heard she was living in Hamilton Township.
“I don’t know why you can’t get some other job,” my mother said to me. “Why can’t you get a job in a bank or a hair salon?
I heard there was an opening at the deli on Hamilton. You could learn to be a butcher.”
My mouth dropped open and a piece of cookie fell out. I tried to stuff a chicken once and almost fainted. The thought of manhandling raw meat all day was enough to give me projectile vomiting.
“I hear butchers make good money,” my mother said. “They work good hours and everybody likes them.”
“And you’d get to be a real expert with a meat cleaver,” Grandma said. “You never know when that could come in handy.”
“I don’t think I’m butcher material,” I said. “And I sort of like my job. I meet interesting people.”
,” my mother said. “And now you’re going after the most popular man in the Burg. Already I’m getting phone calls that you should leave Uncle Sunny alone. Everyone
I took another cookie. “You just told me he was fooling around even when his wife was alive. That’s not a nice guy. And besides, he kills people.”
“He don’t usually kill people anymore,” Grandma said. “He’s getting on in years. He’s got peeps who do that now.”
“What about Stanley Dugan? Sunny is accused of murdering Stanley Dugan.”
“It could have been an accident,” Grandma said.
“He ran over him twice! And then Sunny got out and choked Dugan. There was a witness who videoed it all on his iPhone.”
“Well, Sunny shouldn’t have run over Stanley,” Grandma said, “but you gotta give him something for still being able to put in a day’s work.”
“I have a ham for tonight,” my mother said to me. “You could invite Joseph for dinner.”
I scraped my chair back. “That would be nice, but I’m working tonight.”
“I bet you’re chasing down a killer,” Grandma said. “Am I right?”
“I don’t very often chase down killers,” I told her.
Unless you count Uncle Sunny
“Then what’s up?” she asked. “Are you after a second-story guy? A car thief? A terrorist?”
“I have a date with Ranger, but I’m pretty sure it’s work.”
“I wouldn’t mind that kind of work,” Grandma said. “He’s hot.”
My mother pressed her lips together. Ranger wasn’t marriage material. Ranger wasn’t going to give her grandchildren… at least not legitimate ones.
“Gotta go,” I told them. “Things to do.”
I called Connie from my car and asked her for a home address for Rita Raguzzi.
“I’ll only give it to you if you come collect Lula,” Connie said. “She’s driving me nuts. We need to ration her coffee in the morning. She won’t stop talking about giraffes.”
I swung by the office and retrieved Lula.
“Here’s the information you wanted,” she said, handing me a computer printout and buckling herself in. “What’s up with this Raguzzi?”
“Grandma says Uncle Sunny keeps his toothbrush at her house.”
“Grandma knows everything. Did you ask her about the giraffe?”
“The giraffe didn’t come up.”
“How could the giraffe not come up? We got a giraffe in Trenton. It’s practically a miracle. And it’s not like he’s some plain-ass horse or cow. A giraffe’s special. It’s the tallest animal. It’s taller than a elephant. A giraffe can get to be nineteen feet tall. And his legs could be six foot. Did you know that?”
“No. I didn’t know that.”
“A giraffe could run thirty-five miles an hour, and they could weigh twenty-eight hundred pounds. And here’s the good part: He got a tongue could measure twenty-one inches. Bet Mrs. Giraffe likes that one.”