Home > Turbo Twenty-Three (Stephanie Plum #23)(10)

Turbo Twenty-Three (Stephanie Plum #23)(10)
Janet Evanovich

“I wasn’t even driving the truck,” I said. “Lula was driving the truck, and she miscalculated the brakes.”

“It was stolen,” my mother said. “You stole an ice cream truck!”

I sat down and took a cookie from the box. “Actually Larry Virgil stole it. Lula and I sort of commandeered it.”

“You should marry Joseph and have a baby,” my mother said. “What are you waiting for?”

Good question. I didn’t know the answer. I ate cookies while I thought about it. After five cookies I still didn’t have an answer. It was one of many questions without answers.

“If it was me I’d marry Ranger,” Grandma said. “I go for those dark guys.”

My mother flicked a glance at the cabinet over the sink. This was where she hid her stash of whiskey. I was sure my mother was thinking it was so close and yet so far. Too early for a drink. There were rules to be followed in the Burg. One didn’t imbibe until four o’clock unless it was at a wake. Wake drinking began early in the morning. There were times when you wanted to kill someone just so you could have a Manhattan for breakfast.

“Ranger doesn’t want to marry me,” I said. “He has issues.”

“What kind of issues?” Grandma asked.

“I don’t know exactly,” I said. “I think he’s working on his karma.”

“That’s heavy,” Grandma said.

“He’s not the right person anyway,” my mother said. “Joseph has a good job and a house.”

This was true. Morelli had inherited a house from his Aunt Rose. It was less than a mile from my parents’ house, and it was very similar. Long, narrow backyard. Small front yard. Three small bedrooms on the second floor and shotgun arrangement of rooms on the ground floor. Morelli had been working at making it his own, adding a half bath on the first floor and improving the kitchen. Aunt Rose’s curtains still hung in two of the bedrooms, but the rest of the house felt like Morelli. Big flat-screen TV and comfy couch in the living room, billiards table in the dining room, king-size bed in the master bedroom. I especially liked the king-size bed. Plus Morelli had a dog and a toaster, and his mother regularly filled his fridge with lasagna and cannoli and mac and cheese.

“I ran into that little friend of yours today,” Grandma said to me. “I was at the bakery picking out the cookies and he was buying a fruit babka. He said he was going into business with Lula.”

“Randy Briggs?”

“Yep. That’s the one. He had his hair all punked up with some kind of wax. He said he was getting ready to be a television star. I told him I wouldn’t mind being a television star, and he should call me if they need someone to fill in.”

“They’re making a demo for Naked and Afraid,” I told Grandma.

Grandma sucked on her dentures and thought about it. “I guess I could do that. I look pretty good naked,” she said.

I smelled something burning and looked over to see my mother standing open-mouthed and glassy-eyed. The iron was resting on the shirt, and I could see the shirt material smoking and turning brown around the perimeter of the iron.

I moved to the ironing board and set the iron back on its stand. The shirt had a big iron imprint on it. My mother’s mouth was still open.

“Maybe you need a drink,” I said to her.

She was still staring off into space.

“That shirt’s never gonna be the same,” Grandma said.

I got the whiskey out of the cupboard, splashed some into a juice glass, and handed the glass to my mother. She stared at the glass but didn’t make a move to drink.

“Maybe she had a aneurysm,” Grandma said. “Marie Sokolowski had one and now she calls everyone kiddo and she’ll only eat soup. They tell me if you try to get her to eat something else she pitches a fit.”

“Drink up,” I said to my mother.

“Yeah,” Grandma said, “come have a cookie. Give the ironing a rest.”

My mother tossed the whiskey back and took a cookie from the box.

“There you go,” Grandma said. “Feel better now?”

My mother nodded. “You wouldn’t really go naked, would you?” she asked Grandma.

“Sure I would,” Grandma said. “I got nothing to hide. I’m in pretty good shape. Although I guess I should take a look at myself when I get undressed tonight just to make sure.”

“See,” I said to my mother. “Nothing to worry about.”

My mother held her glass out, and I poured some more hooch into it.

“Got to go,” I said. “Things to do. People to see.”

“You got an exciting life,” Grandma said. “Always something new going on.”

SIX

I LEFT THE Burg and drove through town to Stark Street. Stark Street starts at State Street and runs north. The first block is perfectly reputable. Bars, a couple small groceries, a nail salon, a hardware store, take-out pizza, fast food fried chicken, and a pawn shop at street level. Apartments on the second and third floors. The street deteriorates as the blocks progress until only nuclear rats and drugged-out crazies exist in burned and bombed buildings. Beyond the burned and bombed buildings is a half mile of neglected wasteland. And beyond the wasteland is a thriving junkyard.

Eugene Winkle lived on the fourth block of Stark. Not the worst location and not the best. If I left my car unattended on the street for more than ten minutes it would be gone with no hope of getting it back. If I wore the wrong gang colors I’d be dead or maimed for life. Since I was wearing jeans, a stretchy white T-shirt, and a gray sweatshirt I felt relatively safe. Not that it mattered, because I had no intention of stopping. I was just riding through to take a look around.

Eugene had listed a third-floor apartment as his home address. No employer was given. He listed his occupation as entrepreneur. Had to give him credit. At least he knew how to spell entrepreneur.

I drove past his building, made a U-turn, and drove past a second time. It was a three-story brownstone, decorated with gang graffiti. Third-floor windows were painted black. Trash had collected around the front stoop. There were two bullet holes in a ground-floor window, and the surrounding brick was pocked with bullet holes.

I didn’t see Eugene out and about so I drove back down Stark to State Street and headed for home. I should have gone supermarket shopping, but I stopped at Giovichinni’s Deli and Meat Market on Hamilton instead. It was more expensive but a lot easier.

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