Read Hardcore Twenty-Four Online

Authors: Janet Evanovich

Hardcore Twenty-Four (12 page)

“Or they could have found a nice, dark building where Slick would be able to cook more meth.”

“Exactly. Imagine a zombie on meth! That's epic crazy.”

“I wasn't serious,” I said.

“I get it. That was sarcasm. In my opinion that's not a healthy form of expression. It's filled with negativity. And anyways, I
was
serious. Something got Slick, and it makes sense it was the zombies.”

“Assuming it was zombies, where would we find them?”

“Ordinarily I'd think to look in the cemetery, but they might have temporarily vacated it with all the cops roaming around.”

“Any other ideas?”

“Diggery's woods. It's the perfect place for a bunch of zombies. And already we know they go there sometimes.”

“Okay, do you want to go zombie hunting with me in Diggery's woods?”

“No. No way. No how. I don't think so. Not gonna happen. Also, I usually only work half a day on Saturday, and I'm past the halfway mark. I got an appointment to get my nails done this afternoon.”

“No problem. Drop me at my car, and I'll see if I can talk Morelli into going with me.”

“How about if I drop you at Morelli's house, and you'll be one step ahead of the game?”

“That won't work. I need my car so I can feed Ethel.”

“About your car . . .” Lula said. “You know how it's such a nice sunny day?”

“Yeah.”

“And you know how exceptionally warm it's got?”

“Yeah.”

“And you know how a locked-up car can get overly hot inside when it's parked in the sun? Well, your car got parked in the sun, and the groundhog exploded.”

“What?”

“Exploded. At least that's what we think happened. Hard to tell from what's left. Looked to Connie and me that you don't leave a dead groundhog in a hot car. Who would have thought?”

“Is it bad?”

“It isn't good,” Lula said. “There's putrefied groundhog guts and gravy all over the place. I wouldn't want to be the one to detail it.”

Lula eased to the curb behind my car, staying a good distance away.

“I need to park back here so I don't contaminate my baby with groundhog stink,” she said.

“There are turkey vultures sitting on it.”

“Yeah, we keep shooing them, but they keep coming back and pecking at the roof. I imagine you might have a few dents up there.”

We got out of the Firebird and stood looking at the vultures.

“You want me to shoot them?” Lula asked.

“No.”

I crept closer and looked inside.

“Omigod!” I said, clapping a hand over my mouth, holding my breath.

“It's like you exploded that sucker in a microwave, right? It's like when you forget to put the top on the blender. It's like projectile vomit from something possessed.”

I bit into my lower lip to keep from whimpering. “Do you think it's totaled?”

“Not in the traditional sense of being flattened by a garbage truck or being run off a bridge into the Delaware, but in the sense that no one is gonna want to drive it . . . hell, yeah.”

I closed my eyes and tried to calm myself. I'd destroyed yet another of Ranger's cars. And there was a bet riding on this. Double or nothing. I was in a relationship with Morelli, and I owed Ranger two nights. What was I thinking?

I called Ranger, and he answered with the usual “Babe.”

“Bad news,” I said. “It's about your Lexus.”

“One of my patrol cars drove by it an hour ago and said it was being circled by vultures.”

“There was an unfortunate incident with a dead groundhog.”

“I didn't see that one coming,” Ranger said. “How bad is it?”

“There are vultures circling. How bad do you think it is?”

Silence.

“You're laughing again, aren't you?” I asked him.

“Do I need to send someone in a hazmat suit?”

“Yes.”

“Do you need another car? I'm running a tab.”

“No. I don't need another car. I'm going to get Big Blue.”

“Let me know if you change your mind.”

Big Blue is a 1953 blue and white Buick Roadmaster in prime condition. My grandmother inherited it, and it now sits in my parents' garage and is available to borrow. It drives like a tank, and while some might think old cars are cool, I feel like an idiot in it. That said, it's free and comes with no strings attached.

“What's the plan?” Lula asked.

“Ranger is going to take care of the Lexus. I'm going to borrow Big Blue.”

“I'll give you a ride. Then I'm going to get my nails done. I like my nails to be looking good. I get a chip in my nail varnish, and my juju goes in the dumper.”

NINETEEN

GRANDMA OPENED THE
door when I stepped onto the front porch. “We're done with lunch,” she said, “but I can fix you a sandwich if you're hungry.”

“Thanks. I've already eaten.” Three Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, two Snickers bars, and a bag of M&M's. “I thought you had a date with Willie Kuber.”

“It got over early. He got bursitis playing skillo. He was a dud anyway. All he could talk about was his prostate, and how he was getting radiation, and his prostate was going to turn into a useless leather hacky sack. I got an idea his prostate was useless before he got zapped.”

“Bummer.”

“Yeah. How are you doing with Johnny Chucci?”

“I captured him, but he shot himself in the foot, so I left him with his mother.”

“Was he wearing his underpants on his head?”

“No.”

“Too bad. I bet that would be something to see.”

“I'm going to borrow Big Blue for a couple days.”

“Help yourself. The keys are in the car.”

I backed the Buick out of the garage and drove the short distance to Morelli's house. I let myself in and found Morelli in front of the television with a bag of chips and a beer. Bob was on the couch next to him.

“This game sucks,” he said when he saw me. “Both teams suck.”

I sat down at the far end of the couch and helped myself to some chips. I gave a couple to Bob and ate the rest.

“I need to feed Ethel,” I said. “Want to ride shotgun?”

“Yeah. I live to feed Ethel.”

“As a special bonus, you could look in the woods for zombies.”

“Sorry. It's my day off from zombies.”

I went to the kitchen and looked in his fridge. Half a leftover pepperoni pizza. Two boxes of frozen waffles in the freezer. A loaf of bread on the counter. I gathered them all up and put them in a grocery bag.

Morelli followed me. “What's with the food in the bag?”

“It's for Ethel. I'm out of rotisserie chicken money. I had some really great roadkill for her, but it exploded.”

“I'm not even going to ask.”

“I appreciate that, because I don't want to talk about it.”

• • •

We took Morelli's car and drove down Diggery's road in silence, scanning the cleared areas and surrounding woods. We wouldn't
admit to believing in zombies, but it was hard to dispute the presence of zombie-like
things
.

Morelli parked close to the double-wide, and I carefully entered and looked around. Ethel was coiled in the bedroom doorway.

“Hey!” I yelled. “Lunch.”

I dumped the food on the dining table and returned to Morelli.

“How was it in there?” he asked, as I climbed into the front seat.

“Nothing new. How was it out here?”

“Lonely. Would you like to get naked?”

“Here?”

“Yeah. It's been a long time since we did it in a car.”

“We never did it in a car.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. You must be thinking of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of women you
did
in a car.”

“We
almost
did it in a car.”

“Yes. Almost.”

He leaned across the gearshift and kissed me. His hand slid under my T-shirt and found my breast. His touch was warm and gentle. The first kiss was soft. The second kiss was pure passion. He unsnapped my bra, and his phone rang. We both froze. The phone kept ringing. Morelli yanked the phone out of his pocket and threw it out the window. The ringing stopped for a moment and then resumed.

“Probably you should answer it,” I said. “It sounds official.”

Morelli got out of the car and retrieved his phone. He had a short conversation and got back into the car.

“Well?” I asked.

“That was dispatch. Some woman claims she was chased out of her house by a zombie.”

“Is this for real? Are you sure you aren't being punked?”

Morelli shrugged and rolled the engine over. “I'll know when I get there. She's on Surrey Street. That's two blocks from the Morley Street cemetery . . . the epicenter of zombie activity.”

“I feel like I'm in a
Ghostbusters
movie.”

“Yeah, this is a ten on the weird-o-meter. I find myself feeling nostalgic for the good old days when I was sticking to blood-soaked floors, investigating gang killings.”

“After you talk to her, are you going to come home?”

“Yep.”

“And then?”

“And then I'm going to make you happy,” Morelli said.

“You're going to give me a back rub?”

“I'm going to rub every square inch of you.”

Oh boy.

• • •

Morelli left me at his house and drove away. I didn't expect him to return anytime soon. He'd interview the woman and then get stuck at the station doing paperwork. I went to the kitchen and got a soda out of the fridge. I turned and bumped into Diesel.

“Jeez Louise,” I said. “What the heck?”

“How's it going?” Diesel asked.

When I found my voice, it was an octave higher than normal. “What are you doing here?”

“Thought I'd stop in to say hello.”

“You can't just pop into Morelli's house.”

“Sure, I can. It's easy. His locks are crap.” Diesel looked in the fridge. “There's nothing to eat in here.”

“I gave the leftovers to Ethel.”

“The snake? How's she doing?”

“She's doing okay.”

Diesel looked in the cupboard and found a bag of pretzels. He helped himself to a beer and ate the pretzels.

“I like the pool table in the dining room,” he said. “Nice touch.”

“Where have you been?”

“Working. Looking for a guy.”

“All day and night?”

“Whatever it takes,” Diesel said, offering the pretzels to me.

I took a handful and got myself a beer. “Were you looking for him in the Morley Street cemetery?”

“Yeah. No luck.”

“Don't suppose you want to tell me about it?”

“Not much to tell,” Diesel said. “He's sort of a new age zombie.”

“For real?”

Diesel shrugged. “As real as a zombie could get.”

“The police have a video of you in the cemetery. It was taken by one of my FTAs. Zero Slick.”

“Little guy? Brown ponytail?”

“Yes. He's disappeared.”

“How'd they get the video if he disappeared?”

“He left his GoPro behind. Don't suppose you know where I can find him?”

“No. Maybe he's hanging with the zombies.”

“Do you believe in zombies?”

“Honey pie, I believe in almost everything. Simplifies a lot of shit.”

“You were there when the zombies attacked Slick,” I said. “Why didn't you stop them?”

“They didn't attack him when I was there. I was tracking my target, and I passed a couple locals, but I didn't see any zombies.”

“Their eyes were glowing in the video.”

“Almost all eyes glow in infrared. There was probably a time lapse between frames that you didn't notice.”

I grabbed another handful of pretzels. It was possible. Maybe.

“I thought you were supposed to be this super tracker,” I said. “Why can't you find your guy?”

“He has his own skill set.”

“Could you find Slick?”

“Slick isn't my problem.”

“Yes, but he's
my
problem. And I could use some help.”

Diesel grinned. “Maybe we could make a deal.”

Omigod, another deal! Isn't it enough I have to sleep with Ranger? Okay, let's get real. I want to sleep with both these men. I mean, who wouldn't? Damnation. I was going straight to hell.

“What did you have in mind?” I asked.

“If I find him for you, I get to see you naked.”

“That's it?”

“Should I have asked for more?”

“No!”

“I figure once you're naked . . . who knows.”

I squinched my eyes closed and smacked myself in the forehead.
“Unh!”

“Is that a yes?”

“No! It would feel icky to get naked and have you look at me.”

“Okay, so how about strip poker?”

“No way. I've seen you play poker.”

“You pick a game.”

“Old Maid.”

“Works for me. Let's go.”

“Now?”

“Do you have something better to do?”

I followed him to the door. “Do you have a car? Do you know where to look?”

“Yes and no. Here's the way it works. You tell me where you want to look. We go there and walk around, and if he's there I'll probably know.”


I
could do that.”

“Yeah, but I can do it better. Where do you want to look?”

“His parents' house. The cemetery. The woods around Diggery's double-wide.”

We stepped outside, I locked the door, and looked at the car parked behind Big Blue. It was a red Ferrari.

“That's your car?” I asked.

“It was available. I take what they give me.”

“‘They'?”

“My handlers.”

I stared at him. “Who
are
you?”

“Diesel,” he said. “Just Diesel.”

“And that's another thing. Don't you have a last name?”

“It's Diesel, so you see the problem.”

“You're Diesel Diesel?”

“My parents had a sense of humor not shared by the rest of the family. On the bright side, I have a cousin named Gerewulf Grimoire, so I suppose I should be happy.”

He put his hand on the small of my back and moved me forward. I slid into the Ferrari and buckled up.

“Where would you like to go first?” he asked, settling behind the wheel.

Slick's parents were a long shot, and Morelli was most likely still in the vicinity of Morley Street, so I went with Diggery's woods.

Diesel drove down the single-lane road without looking side to side. He said it distracted from his radar. If anyone else said this I'd roll my eyes, but this was Diesel and what the heck, maybe he really had radar.

We parked in Diggery's yard at the end of the road and got out of the car. We stood very still and listened.

“Well?” I asked Diesel.

“It's quiet here. It's like it's not even Trenton. Wouldn't be half bad if it had some palm trees and a beach.”

“There are a bunch of abandoned shelters tucked away in the woods. Cars, storage sheds, houses, tents. We could do a search
of the area and see if any of these places are being used by . . . um, you-know-whats.”

“Zombies?”

“Yes.”

I wouldn't search the woods on my own. I'm not that brave, and I know my limitations. Even with Diesel I wasn't entirely comfortable snooping around. I'd been chased by dogs, and my car had been attacked by a zombie in Diggery's woods. And to make matters worse, I was operating without a pack of wieners.

“The road isn't that long,” Diesel said. “A couple miles. We can walk down it and check out possible zombie dens.”

“What will we do if we find zombies?”

“We'll ask them if they've seen Slick.”

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