Chapter One CHAPTER ONE I'm Stephanie Plum. Jersey girl. Rutgers graduate. Successful underachiever working for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds as a recovery agent, hunting down losers who've skipped out on their bond. A half hour ago, I heard police chatter about Duncan Dugan exhibiting erratic behavior in an office building downtown. Dugan is a big-ticket bond who failed to show for his court appearance. He's been accused of robbing a jewelry store on King Street at gunpoint, almost running over a crossing guard in his effort to leave the area, and leading seven police cars on a high-speed chase before running out of gas. Since I'd been assigned the task of finding Dugan and dragging his sorry butt back into the legal system, I rushed to the scene with my coworker Lula. Dugan was standing on a fourth-floor ledge. He was a little chubby with short brown hair and his eyes were hidden behind aviator shades. I knew from his arrest sheet that he was five foot ten and thirty-six years old, but he looked younger up there on the ledge. He looked like Charlie Brown, possibly because he was wearing a yellow and black Charlie Brown-style three-button knit shirt. He was flattened against the front of the building, and he was looking down at the crowd that had gathered below him. "He's gonna jump," Lula said to me. "I got him pegged for a jumper." There was a large police presence in the area. There were fire trucks and ambulances, and a satellite news truck was parked not far away. It was lunchtime, and the outdoor eating area attached to the building's café had been cleared of diners. "I'm thinking this might be partly your fault on account of he knows you're after him," Lula said to me. "He probably don't want to go to jail. You should yell up to him and tell him jail isn't so bad. Tell him he'll get free room and board and he'll have a chance to make new friends." "I'm not yelling that up to him," I said. "That's crazy talk." "Yeah, but is it true?" Lula asked. "Technically, yes." "Hunh," Lula said. "There you have it." It was a nice October day in Trenton, New Jersey. The sky was as blue as sky gets in Trenton and the sun was shining. I was wearing jeans and sneakers and a hooded sweatshirt over my V-neck, fitted T-shirt. Lula was wearing spike-heeled, thigh-high boots, and as usual she'd managed to squeeze her plus-size body into a spandex dress designed to fit a much smaller person. Her hair was frizzed out into a big puffball and her fake lashes were furry black caterpillar quality. Lula is a person of color and I'm a person of less color. My eyes are blue. My hair is brown, naturally curly, and shoulder length. I'm lacking the patience to iron my hair into straightness or blow-dry it into luxurious waves, so it's almost always in a ponytail. I make up for this by wearing lip gloss and smiling. Lula justifies the small dress and large lashes by being Lula. The fact is that it all works for her, and on a good day, she's spectacular. A woman pushed her way through the crowd and stepped out onto the street. I was guessing that she was in her midthirties, and if Duncan was Charlie Brown, then this woman was Charlie Brown's friend Lucy. Her hair was dark brown, almost black, and cut medium short with short bangs. She was wearing a blue shirtwaist dress and blue running shoes. "Duncan, you moron!" she yelled up to Dugan. "What the heck are you doing?" "I'm gonna jump," Dugan said. "I screwed up. It's over. I'm jumping to my death." "Well, you better take a header then, because you're only on the fourth floor. If you don't fall right, you could just end up with a bunch of broken bones or maybe paralyzed." "I don't like heights. Four is as high as I can go." "You need to crawl through that window next to you and get down here," the woman yelled up to him. "I'll go to jail." "Big deal. My uncle Fritz went to jail, and he said it wasn't so bad. He got free room and board and he got to make a bunch of new friends." "Fritz said that?" "More or less. Anyway, it won't be for so long, and in the meantime we can talk." "What would we talk about?" "Stuff." He looked over at the window. "I don't want to get broken bones." "You see?" Lula said to me. "You could have been the hero if you'd been the first one to tell him about making friends in jail. Although the business about broken bones was a good addition." Dugan turned to get to the window, his foot slipped, and he fell off the ledge. There was a collective gasp from everyone watching as Dugan crashed through the yellow and white awning that stretched over the sidewalk café and landed like a sack of wet cement on the pavement. I'm not normally a fainter, but I came close to fainting when I heard him hit. I bent at the waist, sucked in air, and fought the nausea. When I straightened up, Dugan was surrounded by paramedics and police. "Do you think he's okay?" Lula asked. "Not even a little," I said. "They're bringing a stretcher over," Lula said. "That might be a good sign." One of Dugan's arms came up and he did a little finger wave. "I'm okay," he said. "Sort of." The crowd dispersed after the wave and message from Dugan, but Lula and I stayed. The woman who had shouted up to Dugan approached the outer rim of the first responders, hung there for a couple minutes, and left. The paramedics finally lifted Dugan onto the stretcher and rolled him off to the ambulance. I knew one of the men. Jerry Fisher. "Where are you taking him?" I yelled to Jerry. He turned and waved at me. "The medical center." I gave him a thumbs-up, and Lula and I walked down the street to my car. I dropped Lula off at the bail bonds office on Hamilton Avenue and drove a couple more blocks to the hospital. The ambulance was parked in the ER drive-thru. I bypassed the drive-thru and went to the parking garage. The bail bonds office and the medical center are on the fringe of the Burg. I grew up in the Burg and my parents still live there. It's a residential chunk of South Trenton clinging to Hamilton Avenue, Chambers Street, and Liberty Street. Houses and yards are small. Televisions are large. Secrets are nonexistent. A few people cheat on their taxes but it's okay because they're grandfathered into the mob. I checked in at the desk in the ER, showed them my papers for Dugan, certifying that I had the right to capture him, and took a seat in the waiting room. After an hour I was told Dugan was in surgery. Three hours later, he was out of surgery and in the ICU, hooked up to a bunch of machines. I talked my way into the ICU and approached Dugan. "Hey," I said. "How's it going?" "Okay," Dugan said, his voice barely a whisper. "It looks like they have you all fixed up. I bet you'll be as good as new in no time." Dugan blinked. "You probably want to rest," I said. "I'll come back tomorrow." He wasn't in any shape to flee, so I went back to the office. "I was just closing up for the day," Connie said. "Lula told me about Dugan. How's he doing?" "He's in the ICU. I didn't get a chance to talk to a doctor. His condition was listed as stable. He got lucky. His fall was broken by the café awning." Connie Rosolli is a couple years older than me. She's the office manager, the guard dog for Vinnie's private office, and like Vinnie, she's certified to write a bond. She has a lot of black hair, thinks there's no such thing as too much mascara, and likes bright red lipstick and polka dots. She wears heels to work but keeps a pair of running shoes in her bottom drawer next to her Glock nine. She can shoot the eyes out of a grasshopper a quarter mile away. She took two folders out of her top drawer and handed them to me. "Two new FTAs came in today. Nothing exciting. Both are low bonds. A repeat shoplifter. Gloria Stitch. And a low-level drug dealer. Hooter Brown." I slipped the files into the messenger bag I used as purse and mobile office. "These two FTAs aren't going to pay my rent." Being a bond enforcement agent has its highs and lows. One of the lows is that I don't get a salary. I get a percentage of the original bond when I make a capture. If I don't make enough captures, I'm forced to mooch food off my parents and moonlight for rent money. Connie took a business card off her desk. "This might help. A man came in about an hour ago, looking for you. He said he had a job that required your special skills." I took the card from her. "I don't have any special skills." "He asked me if you were good at finding people, and I said you were our best skip tracer." "I'm your only skip tracer." I looked at the name on the card. "Martin Plover. He owns Plover's Jewelry, right? That's the store Duncan Dugan got caught robbing." "Yeah, small world," Connie said. "Plover told me he'd be in the store until eight o'clock if you were interested. He also left his cell number on the back of the card." I dropped the card into my messenger bag. "Are you going to talk to him?" Connie asked. "Maybe," I said. "Probably." I left the bonds office, got into my Jeep Cherokee, and drove downtown to Plover's Jewelry. I parked across the street and watched the store for a couple minutes. The "special skills" thing had me worried. I hoped it didn't involve anything kinky. I needed money, but not that bad. I crossed the street and entered the store. It was five o'clock and there were no customers in Plover's. A nicely dressed man who looked to be in his late sixties to early seventies was seated at a writing desk. He stood when I walked in. "Stephanie Plum," he said. "Sorry I missed you at the office. Thank you for coming to the store." "Do I know you?" "We've never officially met. I recognize you from the Leoni viewing. I was there when you put Bella Morelli in cuffs and hauled her out of the funeral home. That took guts. I don't think I could have done it," he said. Bella Morelli is a Sicilian immigrant stuck in a Marlon Brando Godfather time warp. Her hair is gray. Her dresses are always black. Her posture is vulture on the attack. She's crazy like a fox, and she's my boyfriend's grandmother. She was being her usual disruptive self at the Leoni viewing and the funeral director begged me to take her away. "Bella wasn't really all that upset about leaving in cuffs. She loves a dramatic exit," I said to Plover. "She scares the heck out of me. She put a curse on Stu Carp, and he got shingles." I nodded. "She scares the heck out of a lot of people. Connie said you mentioned a job." "Yes. I thought of you because you're obviously good at finding people and surviving dangerous situations." "Like removing Bella from the viewing." "Exactly! Like removing Bella from the viewing." "About the job?" I asked. "I want you to find a former employee. I've reported him as missing to the police, but nothing has come of it." "How long has he been missing?" "Three weeks. He disappeared on the same day that I was held at gunpoint and the store was robbed in broad daylight by some moron." "Did your employee disappear before or after the robbery?" "After," Plover said. "Actually, I fired him. He was supposed to provide security. I hired him so I wouldn't get robbed, and I got robbed." "But now you want to find him?" "Yes," Plover said. "He stole a tray of diamonds valued at close to a million dollars." "Seriously?" "Duncan Dugan, the moron who robbed the store that afternoon, got low-hanging fruit. He cleaned out the cases. I don't want to trivialize that. It was terrifying. It was a smash-and-grab without the smashing. He had me dump everything into a garbage bag while he held me at gunpoint. Fortunately, all the pieces he took were insured and he left the cases intact." I glanced around the store. "It looks like you got everything back." "Unfortunately, no. The bag of stolen jewelry wasn't in the car when the police finally arrested the driver. Everything you see here is new. My displays are a little skimpy, but at least I'm still in business." "How could the bag not be in the car? I thought the police were on him the second he pulled away from the curb." Plover shrugged. "I don't know. It wasn't in the car. And it gets worse. The real loss was with the unset gemstones that were stolen separately. A large part of my business is in engagement rings. Couples come in and select a setting and a stone. So, like most jewelers, I keep an inventory of gemstones. Mostly diamonds of varying sizes and quality." "And you think your security guy stole the unset stones." "Yes. I do." "Have you told the police?" "Yes, and they said they conducted an investigation, but nothing came of it. I can't fault the police. I have no real proof that my guard took the stones. All I can say is that the gems are definitely missing." "But you seem sure that the guard took them." "After the robbery, when I locked up for the night it was just me and one of the police officers. Andy had left a couple hours earlier." "Andy is the security guard." "Yes. He always worked from noon to eight. Six days a week. He left at eight o'clock on the day of the robbery, and he never returned." "And you haven't heard from him." "Not a word," Plover said. "My routine is that every night I take the jewelry out of the display cases, and I put the jewelry in the safe. When I open in the morning, I take the pieces out of the safe. The morning after the robbery I opened the safe to get the few items that were left to display, and the diamond tray was missing." "The diamond tray always stays in the safe?" "Yes." "Did Andy know how to open the safe?" "I never gave him the combination, but he was there when I closed every night. If he was motivated, I suspect he could have watched me punch in the numbers. The thing is there's no other way the diamonds could have disappeared. There were no signs that anyone had tampered with the safe. Someone opened it." "There are people who have skills when it comes to opening safes." "Whoever took the stones came in through the front door without damaging the lock. He disarmed the alarm, opened the safe, and took the diamonds. I have a camera at the rear entrance but not at the front door. My security company suggested a front-door camera, but I didn't think it was necessary. I was trying to save money." "Andy had a key?" "Yes, and he knew the code to disarm the alarm." "Have you been in contact with his family?" "His parents don't seem to be very concerned. They said he's always been a free spirit. He doesn't have siblings, and he isn't married." "And you want me to find Andy?" "Yes." "Why?" "I want the diamonds if any are left. Truth is, they were underinsured. And I'm angry. I trusted Andy. I want him arrested and sent to jail. I believe you get paid when you find people. Find Andy and I'll give you a thousand dollars." "Does Andy have a last name?" "Andy Manley." Holy bejezus. Sucker punch to the brain. I knew Andy Manley. I went to school with him. His nickname was Nutsy. He felt me up at a party when I was fourteen years old, and he told everyone I stuffed my bra with toilet paper. It was a lie, of course. I stuffed my bra with Kleenex. Fortunately, halfway through high school I managed to grow breasts that were acceptable and only required a push-up bra on special occasions. "I might be able to find Andy for you," I said to Plover, "but I can't guarantee that he'll be sent to jail." Plover nodded. "Understood." It was six thirty when I pulled into my apartment building's parking lot. The building itself is an unimaginative three-story chunk of brick and mortar. I live on the second floor, in a one-bedroom, one-bath unit that's mostly furnished in hand-me-downs from dead relatives. I share the apartment with a hamster named Rex, and honestly, it's all very comfortable. Rex is the perfect housemate and best friend. He's nonjudgmental, he never complains, and he's ecstatically happy when he gets an occasional Ritz cracker or a corner of my Pop-Tart. He lives in a large glass aquarium, he sleeps in a Campbell's soup can, and he runs all night long on a hamster wheel, going nowhere. I feel like his life mimics mine. I saw that lights were on in my apartment and Joe Morelli's SUV was parked in my lot. Morelli is a Trenton cop working plainclothes. I have a long history with him and possibly a future. For as long as I've known him, no one has ever called him Joe. His mother, his grandmother, and my mother call him Joseph. Everyone else has always known him as Morelli. At present, for lack of a better word, he's my boyfriend. He has a key to my apartment, and I keep a couple T-shirts and a toothbrush at his house. I parked next to Morelli, bypassed the unreliable elevator in the lobby, and took the stairs. Morelli's dog, Bob, lunged at me the instant I opened the door to my apartment. Bob is big and orange and overly friendly. Morelli and I don't know for sure, but if we had to pick a breed, it would be rogue golden retriever. He put his two massive paws on my chest, knocked me flat on my back, and gave me Bob kisses. Morelli shooed Bob away and pulled me to my feet. "Sorry about that," Morelli said. "Are you okay?" "Yeah, he caught me by surprise." Bob was still in front of me, tail wagging, eyes bright. "Who's a good boy?" I said to Bob. "Who's a good boy?" I gave him a hug and scratched him behind his ears. He snuffled me for food, didn't find any, and went back to his place on my couch. "This is a surprise," I said to Morelli. "I don't usually see you on a Monday." Joe Morelli is six feet of lean muscle. His hair is black and wavy. His eyes are soft brown and expressive when he's feeling romantic, and they're laser focused and unreadable when he's being a cop. He was wearing his usual outfit of running shoes, jeans, and casual cotton knit sweater. We were standing in the small foyer that led to my kitchen. I flicked a glance into the kitchen and saw a thirty-five-pound bag of dog food resting against a cabinet. This might have suggested that either Bob or Morelli or both were moving in with me. "Oh boy," I said. Morelli grinned. "I'm guessing the 'Oh boy' is about the dog food in your kitchen. I need to go out of town for a few days. I was hoping I could leave Bob with you. Last time I left him at home with a dog sitter he knocked her down when she opened the front door, and he ran away. It took half the force to find him." "Sure," I said. "How many days are a few?" "I don't know. Police business. I've been tagged as a witness in the Wisneski trial." "I read about that. It was a drug bust gone bad in Miami." "Yeah. I'm not supposed to talk about it. I heard you were babysitting Duncan Dugan this afternoon." "He's FTA. Lula and I were there when he fell. I followed the ambulance to the medical center and waited for him to get out of the OR. I'll check up on him tomorrow." "Dugan was operating above his pay grade when he robbed Plover," Morelli said. "He's a quality control inspector for one of the lines at the button factory. No priors. From what I hear, this was totally out of character for Dugan. The gun he was using turned out to be a toy. If bad guys were ranked by skill level, Dugan wouldn't even make amateur." "That could all be true, but if I had to stand around all day making sure buttons were round, I might decide to rob a jewelry store. Were you one of the guys investigating?" "No," Morelli said. "I only investigate when there's a lot of blood. I learned about it from my mom, because Plover also accused Nutsy Manley of stealing a tray of diamonds the same day. She heard about it at bingo. Jonesy is the principal on both thefts." "Plover came to the office today. He hired me to find Nutsy." Morelli's eyes narrowed ever so slightly. "You're kidding, right?" "No. He hired me to find Nutsy. He said he reported his suspicions about Nutsy to the police, but they haven't had any luck locating him." "Walk away from it," Morelli said. "Let the police do their thing." "I need the money." "Do you get paid by the hour or do you only get paid if you find him?" "I get paid when I find him." "Then you're wasting your time. Chances of you finding him are slim to none," Morelli said. "The police can't find him, and Ranger can't find him." Ranger is the other man in my life. Carlos Manoso, a.k.a. Ranger. Former Special Forces. Tall, dark, and dangerous. More muscle than Morelli but not so much that he doesn't look good in or out of clothes. I've seen him both ways and he's not a man you can easily forget. He was my mentor when I first became a bond enforcer. He was a bounty hunter then. Now he's the owner of a high-end security business. "Why is Ranger looking for Nutsy?" I asked Morelli. "Don't know. It's street chatter. Nutsy was a private hire, but Rangeman installed and monitored the security equipment for Plover. Maybe Ranger's just protecting the Rangeman brand. Maybe there's something more." "Plover didn't share that information with me," I said. "This robbery smells bad. The initial robbery was almost a joke. The fake gun. Dropping the bag of jewelry. The prime suspect trying to commit suicide. And then the follow-up of a second robbery that had to have been done by a professional. For sure not Dugan, since he hadn't been bonded out at the time of the alleged theft." "Could Dugan have been working with someone? Maybe even Nutsy?" "Anything is possible. I'm sure Jonesy looked into it. He's a good man. I haven't talked to him lately, but he's probably digging around, looking for a connection. There could also be a mob connection here since the second theft was so professionally executed. It wouldn't be good for you to poke the bear if it's mob. You don't want to get involved," Morelli said. "It's all good. I can partner with Ranger." "My worst nightmare," Morelli said. "I'll be stuck in Miami, and you'll be doing God knows what with Ranger. He's built a premier security company, but he's a threat as a human being. He's fearless. He plays by his own rules. And I don't like the way he looks at you." "Like I'm lunch?" "Yeah," Morelli said. "Plus, he has skills and resources to back him up when things get bad. You have Lula." All this was true. Morelli leaned in and gave me a quick kiss. "I have to run. I'm catching a plane out of Newark and I'm late. Bob's leash is on the counter. Probably you want to stash that bag of food up somewhere high, so he doesn't binge-eat it and throw up on your couch." I locked the door after Morelli left and I looked at Bob, sprawled on my couch. "Just you and me," I said. "Have you had dinner?" Bob's eyes popped open at the mention of dinner. I got his bowls out of the cabinet and filled one with water and the other with kibble. Bob rushed into the kitchen, snarfed down the kibble, and went to the door. I liked Bob a lot and I didn't mind him living with me. I wasn't so excited about the walking and picking-up-Bob-poop part. It was seven thirty when we got back from the walk. I made myself a peanut butter and olive sandwich, washed it down with a bottle of beer, and had a Butterscotch Krimpet Tastykake for dessert. I gave a chunk of the Krimpet to Rex. He shot out of his soup can, almost exploded with joy when he saw the Krimpet, and hauled his treasure back into his can. Another reason why hamsters are the best. No agonizing over how fat their ass will be if they eat a Krimpet. Just snatch it up and hide it in your soup can before it goes away. This is pretty much the extent of my skills in the kitchen. I usually eat at the sink, and I never have dinner guests. Since I don't have a second bedroom to use as an office, I work at my otherwise unused dining room table. Bob and I moseyed over to the table. I opened my MacBook and tapped Andrew Manley into a search engine. Seconds later I started getting information. Manley had enlisted in the army when he graduated high school. After his stint in the army, he went to a clown school in Florida, graduated with honors, and got a job at Rent-A-Clown in Des Moines. After six months he returned to Florida and drove a cement truck. He migrated back to Trenton two years ago and moved in with his parents. According to his online information, he was still living there. He'd been working as a security guard for Plover for almost a year. Prior to that he was a box store bagger. He owned a Yamaha SR400 bike. No car. His parents owned a white Toyota Corolla. They lived about a half mile from my parents. I knew the neighborhood, but I didn't know the senior Manleys. I was guessing my grandma Mazur knew them. Grandma moved in with my parents when my grandfather went to the big bacon buffet in GodLand. She's hooked into the Burg gossip network, and she knows everything about everyone. A large percentage of it is even true. "I have a plan," I said to Bob. "First thing tomorrow we'll go to my parents' house to talk to Grandma about the Manleys. This has the added advantage of getting breakfast." Bob looked happy about this. He might not have been able to put it all together, but he knew the word breakfast . Excerpted from Dirty Thirty by Janet Evanovich All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. 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