Read Hardcore Twenty-Four Online

Authors: Janet Evanovich

Hardcore Twenty-Four (11 page)


were already at the office when I walked in. Connie was dressed down in jeans and sneakers and a red sweater. Lula was wearing chunky gladiator sandals, a short black metallic skirt, and a silver tank top. If I didn't know her I might have been frightened. She looked like a
Who's Your Mama?

“I have your photos,” Connie said. “Roger and Miriam Murf.”

Lula came over to see the photos. “Who we looking at?”

“Grandma's boyfriend and his wife,” I said.

“Say what?”

The only thing Roger Murf had in common with George Hamilton was a tan. Murf was short, mostly bald, and overweight. His wife was equally tan, equally overweight, and excessively wrinkled. Their photos came from the DMV and from an article about a senior center swingers club.

“They need a good dermatologist,” Lula said.

I took the photos from Connie and stuffed them into my messenger bag.

“I'll run these over to Grandma, and then I'm going to check on Ethel.”

Lula looked out the office front window. “You got the zombie car back. I don't know if it's a good idea for you to go down Diggery's road with that car. There could be zombies lurking that remember you drove over one of them.”

“We could take your car.”

“No way. Even if we didn't hit any zombies it would get all dusty.”

I tried not to roll my eyes, but I was only partially successful. “Okay, I'll drive. Are you coming?”

“Hell, yeah. Somebody's got to be there to shoot the zombies.”

• • •

I left Lula in the car, and I ran to my parents' house. Grandma was in the foyer, holding her purse.

“Are you going somewhere?” I asked.

“I got a date.”

“You aren't going to Florida, are you?”

“No. That's old business,” Grandma said. “I'm moving on. I don't know if I want to keep up with a man who looks like George Hamilton. You got to put a lot of work into looking that good. Besides I got a new honey. This tan and hairdo got me a
date with Willie Kuber. He used to be a butcher at Giovichinni's. We're going to the shore to play skillo.”

“Wow. That's great.”

“I'm pretty stoked,” Grandma said. “He could be the one. I've had my eye on him ever since his wife passed. For an older man, he's got a real nice bum.”

I told Grandma to have fun, and I hurried back to Lula.

“Did you break the news to her?” Lula asked.

“Wasn't necessary. She has a date with Willie Kuber. They're going to the shore to play skillo.”

“I don't know who that is, but playing skillo is an excellent date idea.”

I drove out of the Burg and took Broad Street to Diggery's neighborhood. Halfway to his double-wide I almost ran over a groundhog. It was sneakers-up in the middle of the single-lane road.

I stopped, and Lula and I peered over the hood at the brown blob.

“Looks like a big ol' groundhog,” Lula said.

“Yeah, a big ol'
groundhog. I can't drive around it, but I think I'll clear if I drive over it.”

“Yeah, but what if it
dead, and you don't clear it? Then you got more blood on your hands. First you mow down a zombie, and now you risk smooshing a groundhog. Maybe this groundhog's just taking a nap.”

I blew my horn at the groundhog. Nothing.

“He could be deaf,” Lula said.

“I think you should get out of the car, and poke it with a stick, and take a real close look at it,” I said.

“I'll get out, if you'll get out.”

“Great. Fine. I'll get out.

I wrenched the door open, lurched out, and went to stand over the slightly bloated groundhog. Lula came up beside me.

“Looks dead to me,” I said.

“We should say some words,” Lula said. “It's only right that when you come on the deceased you say some words.”

“You're going to pray over the groundhog?”

“He's God's creature.”

“Okay. I get that.”

We bowed our heads.

“Dear Lord,” Lula said. “Bless this disgusting swelled-up groundhog and take him into the kingdom of heaven or wherever it is that dead groundhogs are supposed to go. Amen.”

We both made the sign of the cross.

“I would have said more, but I didn't really know the deceased,” Lula said.

I gave up a sigh. “You said enough. Let's go.”

“Wait a minute,” Lula said. “You can't leave him here. He could deface Ranger's car when you drive over him. He could explode and spray guts all over. And anyways it would be a waste. You should pick it up. You could feed it to Ethel.”

“Are you crazy? I'm not picking it up!”

“Did you bring something else for Ethel to eat?”


“Well, then, you should bring her this groundhog. Otherwise you gotta go to the store and get Ethel some more rotisserie chicken.”

I hated to admit it, but feeding the groundhog to Ethel wasn't
an entirely bad idea. I was running out of rotisserie chicken money.

All Rangeman cars are equipped with emergency medical kits. I found disposable gloves for Lula and me, and a Mylar survival blanket we could use to protect the back of the Lexus. Lula and I pulled on gloves and returned to the groundhog. I spread the blanket out on the road and looked at Lula.

“I'll take the front legs, and you take the rear legs, and we'll put him on the blanket. Then we can carry him to the car.”

“Ethel better appreciate this,” Lula said. “I wouldn't do this for just any snake.”

We grabbed the groundhog by his legs and dropped him onto the blanket.

“I think he's leaking something,” Lula said. “It looks like gravy.”

I gave a shudder and dragged the blanket to the SUV. We trundled the groundhog in, wrapped the blanket around him so no gravy would get on Ranger's car, and I closed the hatch. I drove about ten feet, and I got a call from Judy Chucci.

“He's here,” she said. “The idiot is standing on my sidewalk holding a sign that says he loves me.”

“I'm on my way,” I told her. “Try to keep him there.”

I made a U-turn and sped out of Diggery's neighborhood.

“What about Ethel?” Lula asked. “She's going to be wondering about breakfast.”

“She has to wait. If I catch Johnny Chucci and bring him in, I can afford rotisserie chicken.”

I cut across the Burg and reached Judy's street in record time. Her house was a block away, and I could see Johnny standing on the sidewalk with his sign.

“You gotta give him something for being persistent,” Lula said. “Of course, aside from that he's a nutcase.”

“I'm going to park and approach him. If he runs I'll go after him. You stay here and make sure he doesn't circle back and drive away. The silver Honda is parked across the street from Judy's house.”

“No problem,” Lula said. “I'll make sure he don't get near the car.”

I pulled in behind the Honda, and Lula and I got out. Johnny didn't turn to look. He was waving his sign and watching for Judy to appear at the door. I guess he thought if he stayed there long enough she'd give in and come out. I was halfway across the street when he saw me. Recognition was instant. He dropped the sign and took off. I chased him between the two houses and through several backyards. He was surprisingly fast, hurdling over fences and crashing through hedges. I caught my toe on one of the fences and face-planted. I got up and continued to chase him, but I was far behind. He turned a corner, and by the time I got there he'd disappeared.

I stood still and listened. I didn't hear footsteps, but someone was breathing heavily not far away. At least I had the satisfaction of knowing he wasn't in any better shape than me.

“Hey, Johnny,” I yelled. “Let's talk. I can help you.”

I was at the corner, standing to one side of a shingled bungalow with a small front yard that had been cemented over
and painted green. Johnny poked his head out from the other side.

“Go away. I'm not going to jail,” he said.

“It could work out okay. Maybe the judge will be sympathetic, and you'll get off with community service.”

“No way. I'll serve time and when I get out, Judy will be married. I'll never get her back.”

“I don't think she's interested in you. I think you should move on.”

“I can't,” Johnny said. “I love her.”


“I don't know. She's a stupid obsession. I can't stop thinking about her.”

“Maybe you need a hobby. Prison might be a good thing. You could take up metalwork or pumping iron.”

I moved toward him, and he jumped away from the house. “No!” he said. “Stay away from me. I have a gun.”

“I don't see a gun.”

“It's in my pocket.”

“I want to see it.”

Johnny struggled to get the gun out of his pocket, and
He accidentally shot himself in the foot. He stared openmouthed at his foot for a couple beats, and fainted.

I called 911, and I called Lula. I elevated Johnny's feet, and was relieved when he opened his eyes.

“What?” he asked. “When?”

It took him a few minutes to fully come around and realize his foot hurt. I didn't bother with cuffs because he wasn't going
to be running anywhere anytime soon. The gun was lying a safe distance away.

Lula drove up in Ranger's Lexus and parked. I could hear a fire truck a couple blocks away.

“What the heck?” Lula said, looking down at Johnny. “What'd the dumb ass do now?”

“Shot himself in the foot,” I said.

“Well, that's nothing to be ashamed of,” Lula said. “We've all been there.”

Johnny was in a white-faced cold sweat. “Am I going to die?” he asked.

“Eventually, but not today,” I told him. “You shot yourself in the foot. That's not usually fatal.”

Ten minutes later the street was filled with first, second, and third responders. Johnny was strapped onto an EMT stretcher and rolled into the ambulance for the three-minute drive to St. Francis Medical Center. I rode with Johnny, and Lula took my car back to the office.

Johnny was admitted through the ER, and whisked away to prep for surgery, such as it was. If there were a lot of bones involved they might take him upstairs. Otherwise, the bullet would be removed down here, he'd get a shot of antibiotic, his foot would get bundled, and he'd get turned over to me. You wouldn't want to have brain surgery done at St. Francis, but you were in good hands with a gunshot. Emergency had lots of experience removing bullets.

It was actually a good time of day to get shot. Not a lot was going on in emergency, so the wait time for attention wasn't bad.
If he'd gotten shot at eleven at night he'd have to take a ticket and get in line.

After a half hour, I went back to check on Johnny. He was on an ER bed in one of the little draped cubicles. His shoe had been removed and his pants leg cut off at the knee. His foot was elevated and packed in ice.

“What's going on?” I asked him.

“I'm waiting for X-rays.”

An ER doctor showed up and looked at the foot.

“Doesn't look terrible,” he said.

“How long before he's discharged?” I asked.

“Are you his wife?”

“I'm a bail bonds apprehension agent, and he's a fugitive. When you're done with him he'll either be transferred upstairs to the lockup, or I'll take him downtown to the police station.”

“I doubt he'll need to be hospitalized. His vitals are all okay, and I should be able to do this procedure under local anesthesia. With luck, he'll be out of here in a couple hours.”

I returned to the waiting room and read all the magazines. I read my email. I spent time on Facebook. I got candy out of the vending machine and told myself it was lunch.

It was almost one o'clock when Johnny got rolled out of the back in a wheelchair. He was holding crutches and his discharge papers. He had a massive bandage around his foot, and he looked exhausted.

There was no way I could turn him in to the police. He looked pathetic.

“Is there someplace you can go for the night?” I asked him. “Your parents' house? One of your brothers'?”

“I thought I was going to jail.”

“I can't take you in like this. They'll take your pain pills away, and you can't walk. I'll give you a couple nights to recover, but you have to promise not to leave the Burg.”

“I promise. I guess I could stay with my parents.”


I called Lula and told her I needed a ride. Five minutes later she drove her red Firebird into the pick-up area just outside the ER. I helped Johnny into the back seat, handed him his crutches, and turned the wheelchair over to an aide.

“Are we going to the police station?” Lula asked.

“No,” I said. “I'm going to let him stay with his parents for a couple nights.”

Lula looked back at Johnny. “That's probably not smart, but it's nice. He looks done in.”

She drove to the elder Chuccis' house, I helped Johnny to the door, and his mom took him in. She didn't look happy. Couldn't blame her.

“Where are we going now?” Lula asked.

“I should be looking for Slick, but I don't know where to begin.”

“I got a theory,” Lula said. “They haven't found any of his parts, right?”


“I think that's because they turned him into a zombie, and he's hanging with the rest of them. You find the zombie pack, and you'll find Slick.”

“That's a disturbing thought.”

“You bet your ass. And it's a problem on account of zombies
don't like a lot of light so they skulk around in the shadows during the day. They could be holed up inside somewhere with the shades pulled down. And they could be watching MTV.”

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