Carrots: A Shelby Nichols Adventure (19 page)

“I’m fine,” Uncle Joey said. “But my new car’s gone.” The guys all exclaimed vehemently. They were really upset about that. Uncle Joey ushered them into his office and closed the door. They were all there except Johnny and Number Five, and Johnny was dead. So where was Number Five?

I grabbed a turkey croissant sandwich and a Diet Coke. There was no sign of Ramos, which was probably a good thing since he was starting to guess what I did. I checked my watch, and almost choked on my sandwich. How did it get so late?

I rushed out the door, but before I could push the call button for the elevator, Jackie came after me. “Shelby…wait! You can’t go until you sign these forms.” When I hesitated, she pleaded, “All you have to do is sign this, it won’t take long.” I wrapped my sandwich in a napkin, and after signing, she handed me a checkbook and account information. I slipped it into my purse along with my sandwich and dashed to the elevator.

I spent the time on the elevator looking for my car keys. Ramos had handed them over, but I couldn’t remember where I put them. I finally dumped everything out of my purse and found the keys just as the doors opened. Luckily, no one was there to see me kneeling on the floor. I pushed everything back into my purse, inadvertently smashing the sandwich, and stepped off the elevator.

The parking garage smelled faintly of exhaust, like someone had just driven off. I started toward the car and a sudden chill went down my spine when I realized the sign above the space said: Reserved for Joe E. Manetto. How long ago had Mr. Hodges left? Could he have planted another bomb in my car thinking it was Uncle Joey’s?

I glanced around the lot and my neck tingled with sudden apprehension. It was dark in the far corners, and I couldn’t see into the shadows. Anyone could be hiding there. I stood for a few seconds, wondering what to do. Was I being paranoid? All at once, it felt as if someone’s eyes were boring into my back. I whirled around, but no one was there. I was getting totally freaked out. I took one more look at the car and decided there was no way I could get inside and start it. Not without having it checked first.

I hurried back to the elevator and sighed with relief when the doors closed. When they opened on the twenty-sixth floor, I was more in control. I marched confidently into the office, startling Jackie. “Is Ramos here? I forgot something.”

“Um…sure, just a minute.” She dialed a number on the phone, then told me he’d be right out. A minute later he came down the hall. His hair was wet and curly, and he had on a clean set of clothes.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“I…um…I was just wondering if you would mind looking over my car. You know, for bombs? It’s parked in Uncle Joey’s spot.”

He smiled. “Hmm, I don’t know. I just changed my clothes.” He wasn’t going to make this easy.

“Well, maybe you don’t have to crawl underneath it. You could just look under the hood with a flashlight or something.” He thought I was being paranoid. He was probably right. “Please?”

“All right, I’ll look.” He wasn’t real happy to spend any time with me after what had happened earlier, but he didn’t want me to get blown up either. From now on, he’d probably have to check all of Mr. Manetto’s cars for bombs. It was one more thing to worry about.

The realization hit me that it wasn’t safe to drive one of Uncle Joey’s cars. I needed my own car. Maybe I should take Uncle Joey up on his offer, and get a new car from his dealer. It would be at a good price, and I wouldn’t have to worry about getting blown up. That probably made it okay, and I was sure if Chris knew, he’d agree with me.

“Wait,” I stopped Ramos. “I think I want to get my own car. Uncle Joey might need the car I’ve been using now that his got blown up. Do you think it would be okay to ask him?”

Ramos glanced toward Uncle Joey’s office and shrugged. “Sure.”

I took a deep breath and knocked before sticking my head in the door. “Excuse me, but can I ask you a question?” At his nod, I continued, “You probably need the car I’ve been using, so I was wondering if I could take you up on the offer of getting a car from the person you spoke of earlier.”

“Of course,” Uncle Joey replied, a little surprised that I’d accept his help. “Have Ramos take you, and he can check on the other car for me.”

“Great. Thanks.” I gently closed the door, and smiled at my good fortune. Ramos was waiting for me by Jackie’s desk. “He said you should take me to the car dealer, and look at the other car he wants while you’re there,” I said to Ramos.

“I thought you needed to get home.” I still had dirt on my face, and my clothes were a mess.

I checked my watch. It was too late to beat the kids home now. “I have some clothes in the trunk. While you’re checking the car, I can change and wash up in the bathroom, okay?”

He nodded, resigned to the idea that he was taking me car-shopping. He liked looking at new cars, but he’d never gone with a woman like me before. He was a little worried about his reputation, but he figured he’d survive, as long as I didn’t want to buy a van.


Chapter 11

Ramos had just finished checking the car when I came back from changing my clothes. My face was now mostly make-up free, but without the dirt, it was an improvement. I also got rid of the wig, since without the glasses it just didn’t work. Besides, I didn’t need my disguise any more today. My hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and wearing jeans and a t-shirt, I felt more like myself than I had in days.

“No bombs,” Ramos said, thinking I looked a lot younger with my real hair, or maybe it was the ponytail. “You ready?”

“Yes,” I hesitated. “You’re sure the car’s okay?” I really wanted him to start the car before I got in, but it might hurt his feelings to ask.

“The car’s already running.”

“Oh, you’re right. Silly me.” I tried to cover my embarrassment with a little laugh. How had I not noticed that the motor was on? Ramos opened the trunk, and I stashed my things inside before getting in.

The car dealership was only a few blocks away, so it didn’t take long to get there. When we pulled in, a salesman hurried out before we had even opened the doors. He took one look at Ramos, and turned right back around. “They know me here,” Ramos explained. “He went to get Tony.”

Sure enough, an older man in a tan sports jacket and open-collared shirt ambled over to us. He wore a thick gold chain with a cross around his neck, and a gold stud in one ear. He shook Ramos’s hand, and the gold ring on his little finger glimmered in the sun. “Nice to see you, Ramos, how’s the new car working out? I told Mr. Manetto he’d love it.”

“That’s the problem Tony. The car got blown up earlier today. Mr. Manetto was very upset.”

“What? Someone blew up that beautiful car? Are they insane?”

“Yeah, something like that. Anyway, he sent me back to see if you still had the other one that was just like it.”

“Oh, yeah I do.” He was thinking that another guy was looking at it, but if Uncle Joey wanted the car, he’d have to tell the other guy it wasn’t available. He hated doing that, since it was bad for business, but Joey “The Knife” came first.

“Good, he’ll be relieved. He really liked that car.” Ramos nodded toward me. “This is Shelby. Mr. Manetto wants you to fix her up with something she’d like.”

“Hi.” I shook his hand, feeling a little guilty that I was taking advantage of him. He greeted me warmly, thinking Mr. Manetto was robbing the cradle, and I let out a little laugh while a blush crept up my neck. I kind of liked Tony.

“What kind of car are you looking for?” he asked.

“A van,” I replied, and stole a glance at Ramos. His eyes widened and he dropped his head, thinking he should have known. “Do you have anything like that?”

“You know, I don’t.” Tony was trying not to smile. “But I’m sure there’s something else here that you’d be happy with. Why don’t you take a look around while I get the paperwork started for Ramos?”

“Okay.” They left and I started my search. There were a lot of nice cars, but I couldn’t tell one brand from another. To me, they came in three sizes; small, medium, and big – that about covered what I knew about cars.

I preferred the medium size, with more of a sporty look, something that would get good gas mileage, but had enough power to go fast in a pinch. Did they even make cars like that? If I could fit three people in the back and two more in front, I wouldn’t need a van. Besides, people with vans ended up driving more because they had so much room to cart all the kids around in, right?

I checked some of the sticker prices, and cut them in half to see how much a new car would cost with Uncle Joey’s ‘discount,’ and could hardly contain my excitement. At half price, the insurance money could get me something really classy.

Tony caught up to me, and started explaining all about the different cars. We’d covered most of the lot when I spotted a crème-colored beauty in a different area. When I expressed an interest, he opened the gate and I followed him in. “This is just like Mr. Manetto’s car except for the color. Would you like to see the inside?” He found the keys, and unlocked the door.

The first thing that came to me was the fresh scent of new car and leather seats. I sat down in plush luxury and took a deep breath, reveling in extravagance. Tony showed me how the seat adjusted to my body, and explained the different features. It came with stuff I didn’t even know what to do with. “Do you want to take a test drive?” Did I ever!

The engine purred to life and I took to the streets in cultured elegance. It was the smoothest ride I’d ever experienced in my life. And the power! A tap on the gas and we were off! This car was a dream, and I could see why Uncle Joey liked it so much. How could anyone in their right mind blow up something like this? It was unthinkable.

When we got back to the dealership, I had stars in my eyes. This was the car I wanted. It was the only car I could ever be satisfied with. It didn’t matter that it only seated five people. Who needed more room than that anyway?

We found Ramos and he frowned at the glazed look in my eyes. When I told him I wanted the car, he understood where the look came from. “I thought you wanted a van,” he couldn’t help teasing. “Besides, what will your husband think when he sees you driving home in this car?”

I didn’t want to think about that. “How much?” I asked Tony. He quoted me a price that was higher than the insurance money. I nearly groaned before I thought of the bank account Uncle Joey had given me. I pulled out the account book, and nearly fell off my chair. Ten thousand dollars? He’d given me ten thousand dollars? I couldn’t accept that. It was way too much.

“Shelby?” Ramos caught my attention. “Do you want the car?”

“Yes.” I did, didn’t I? It was a great deal. When would I ever have another opportunity like this?

“I’ll get the paperwork started,” Tony said. “One thing you should know; when I do this for Mr. Manetto, I require that you sign a contract that states you’ll sell the car back to me if for any reason, you don’t want it. It wouldn’t be good for business if you turned around and sold it for full price. I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course.” It seemed like a reasonable request. I couldn’t detect anything in his thoughts to tell me otherwise. Ramos thought I was getting a good deal too. He was glad that Mr. Manetto was helping me out, maybe that meant he was planning on keeping me around. He also knew I was providing valuable information for Manetto, but the way I did it was uncanny. It was almost like I could read minds, but that was impossible, wasn’t it? He glanced at me, wondering if I was ‘listening’ right now.

“What?” I asked. “Do you think I’m making a mistake?”

“No, it’s a great deal.” He was a little disappointed, but let it go, thinking he could always try to catch me off guard another time. I relaxed, knowing I was off the hook for now, but I’d better be careful in the future.

Tony had all the papers ready, and after I signed them, I got out my checkbook. I wrote the first check from the account where we’d put the insurance money, and the second check from Uncle Joey’s account. I figured that the amount I was spending from him would pretty much cover all the work I’d done for him. That was fair. As for the rest, I wasn’t touching it.

Tony handed me two sets of keys, and stuck a temporary license on the back window, telling me he’d call when he got the real plates. The car was officially mine. I remembered to get my stuff out of Uncle Joey’s car and I was ready to go. Ramos smiled when I waved at him, and I sat back, relieved not to worry about being blown up. 

It was after five when I pulled into the driveway. Chris wasn’t home yet, but I knew he would be there soon. When he found out about the good deal I got, he was sure to be impressed. Even though it cost a little more than we wanted, I could explain that I’d used the money from my job to make up the difference. After he drove the car, I was sure he’d be convinced I’d done the right thing.

I left the car sitting in the driveway, and took my singed clothes out of the trunk. They were ruined, so I threw them directly into the garbage. I salvaged my wig and hurried into the house and put it away, although at this point, I didn’t want to keep it either. I put on some lipstick, and a hint of perfume while I waited for Chris. My stomach was doing little flip-flops, and I wondered why I was so nervous. I hadn’t done anything wrong.

Savannah was in her room talking on her phone, so she just waved at me when I checked on her. Josh was playing a video game. “I got a new car,” I said.

“Cool,” he replied.

“Do you want to come see it?”

“Umm…is it a van?” He was thinking that if it was a van it didn’t matter if he saw it or not. They were all alike as far as he was concerned.

“No, it’s something else.” Right then I wished I knew what kind of car it was, not that it mattered to me, but it might make a difference to him.

“Sure. I’ll be there in a minute.” Which meant he’d come when he came to a stopping place in his game, if he remembered.

I went downstairs to the kitchen to fix dinner, and my stomach clenched when Chris walked in.

“Whose car is that?” he asked, setting down his briefcase.

“Do you like it?”

“Yeah, it’s great…” The rest of what he was going to say died in his throat. He jerked his eyes to mine in sudden suspicion, and I swallowed. “You didn’t just buy that car did you?” he asked before I could say anything.

“Come and look at it,” I tugged at his arm.

“Oh no,” he said, closing his eyes. “You did.”

“I got a great deal on it, and I’m sure after you drive it, you’ll understand why I couldn’t pass it up.”

“You bought that car? Do you know how much cars like that cost?” His voice rose with each word.

“I got a good deal. I only had to pay a little more than the insurance money, and I used the money from my job to make up the difference. See? So you don’t have to be upset.”

He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Maybe the car wasn’t as expensive as he thought it was. It had to be a different make or something. Otherwise, it would cost a lot more than what I could afford.

“Come on,” I cajoled. “I’ve got the keys right here. Come take it for a spin, you’ll love it!” Now I knew how a car salesman felt.

“I thought we were going to get a van.” He still couldn’t believe I’d bought a car. On my own. Without him. “I thought we were going to talk about this first.”

“Yeah, but when I found this, I couldn’t pass it up. You’ll understand when you drive it.” This time he let me pull him through the door to the driveway. I hurried over to the driver’s side and opened the door. “Here, sit down. Isn’t this great?” I suddenly felt like Eve in the Garden of Eden, trying to get Adam to eat the apple.

He sat down, and I handed him the keys. “It even has a remote start button.” I shut the door and hurried to the passenger side. He ran his hands over the steering wheel and the dash board, taking in all the features.

“This thing’s loaded.” His voice was quiet. He pierced me with a stare full of worry and disbelief. How? How had I managed to get a car like this for the price of the insurance money and the little I’d made at my job? He knew it wouldn’t begin to cover the full cost. Had I lied to him?

I was starting to panic. How did he know how much cars like this cost in the first place? This was not going well. “I’ve got all the paperwork in the house. You can look it over if you don’t believe me.”

He flinched. “I forgot you were reading my mind. I thought you weren’t going to do that.”

What could I say? “I know. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been listening, but you seemed so upset, and you don’t need to be. Everything’s fine.” He closed his eyes and shuttered his thoughts, not trusting himself to speak. “We don’t have to keep it,” I ventured. “I can always take it back, but since it’s here, you might as well take it for a spin.”

He took a deep breath and started her up. We backed out of the driveway and down the street. I felt him relax as he took the corner, and I sat back in my seat. He kept his thoughts quiet, and I concentrated on blocking them. We got on the freeway, and he relaxed even more. After ten minutes, he was enjoying the smooth handling, and was curious about all the features.

“Is that a GPS system?” I asked.

“Yeah.” He started explaining how they worked, then went on to tell me about some of the other features. I was amazed that he knew so much about cars.

By the time we pulled in the driveway, he had loosened up. He wasn’t gushing about the car, but he wasn’t mad either. “I’d like to look over the paperwork.”

“Sure.” We went inside without a word, and I gently placed the paperwork in his hands. He retreated to his study and closed the door, shutting me out. I knew I was partly to blame for that. He wanted to be someplace where I couldn’t ‘listen’ to him.

I washed my hands to get dinner ready, and noticed my palms were tender with abrasions from the blast. I also had a new bruise on my hip and knee from where I’d landed, but I was learning to take it in stride, almost like it was just another day on the job.

For the rest of the evening Chris kept to himself, and I was careful not to intrude. In a way, I was glad he was so pre-occupied. It kept me from having to lie about my day, since there was no way I was going to tell him about the explosion. When it was time for bed, I couldn’t wait for his verdict any longer. “Well? What do you think about the car?”

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