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Janet Evanovich

Smokin Seventeen

Stephanie Plum -17

Thanks to Shirley Eng

for suggesting the title for this book

ONE

MY GRANDMA MAZUR called me early this morning.

“I had a dream,” Grandma said. “There was this big horse, and it could fly. It didn’t have wings. It just could fly. And the horse flew over top of you, and started dropping road apples, and you were running around trying to get out of the way of the road apples. And the funny thing was you didn’t have any clothes on except a red lace thong kind of underpants. Anyways, next thing a rhinoceros flew over you, and he was sort of hovering over top your head. And then I woke up. I got a feeling it means something.”

“What?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but it can’t be good.” And she disconnected.

So that’s how my day started. And to tell you the truth the dream pretty much summed up my life.

My name is Stephanie Plum. I work as a bond enforcer for my cousin Vinnie’s bail bonds office, and I live in an uninspired, low-rent, three-story, brick-faced chunk of an apartment building on the edge of Trenton, New Jersey. My second-floor apartment is furnished with my relatives’ cast-offs. I’m average height. I have an okay shape. I’m pretty sure I’m averagely intelligent. And I know for sure I have a crummy job. My shoulder-length curly brown hair is inherited from the Italian side of the family, my blue eyes from the Hungarian side of the family, and I have an excellent nose that’s a gift from God. Good thing he gave me the nose before he found out I wasn’t the world’s best Catholic.

It was early September and unseasonably hot. I had my hair up in a ponytail. I’d forgone makeup and opted for lip balm instead. And I was wearing a red stretchy tank top, jeans, and sneakers. Perfect clothes for running down bad guys or buying doughnuts. I parked my hunk-of-junk Ford Escort in front of Tasty Pastry Bakery on Hamilton Avenue and mentally counted out the money in my wallet. Definitely enough for two doughnuts. Not enough for three.

Loretta Kucharski was behind the counter when I entered the bakery. Last year Loretta was vice president of a bank. When the bank went belly-up, Loretta got the job at Tasty Pastry. To my way of thinking it was definitely career advancement. I mean, who doesn’t want to work in a bakery?

“What’ll it be?” Loretta asked me. “Cannoli? Italian cookies? Doughnut?”

“Doughnuts.”

“Boston cream, chocolate cake, jelly, lemon glazed, cinnamon sugar, blueberry, pumpkin spice, chocolate glazed, cream filled, bearclaw, or maple?”

I bit into my lower lip. I wanted them all. “Definitely a Boston cream.”

Loretta carefully placed a Boston cream in a small white bakery box. “And?”

“Jelly doughnut,” I said. “No wait! Maple. No! Either Maple or pumpkin spice. Or maybe the chocolate glazed.”

The door to the bakery opened, and an old woman who looked like an extra out of a low-budget mafia movie marched in. She was small and wiry and dressed in black. Plain black dress, black scarf on her steel-gray hair, sensible black shoes, dark stockings. Snapping dark eyes under bushy gray eyebrows. Mediterranean skin tone.

Loretta and I gasped when we saw her. It was Bella — the most terrifying woman in Trenton. She’d immigrated to the States over fifty years ago, but she was still more Sicilian than American. She was devious and sly and possibly flat-out crazy. She was also my boyfriend’s grandmother.

Loretta made the sign of the cross and asked the Holy Mother for protection. Considering my lack of church attendance I didn’t feel comfy asking the Holy Mother for help, so I gave Bella a weak smile and a small wave.

Grandma Bella pointed a bony finger at me. “You! What you doing here?”

To say that my relationship with Grandma Bella was tenuous would be a gross understatement. Not only am I the harlot who, to her way of thinking, seduced and corrupted Joseph Anthony Morelli, her favorite grandson, but even more damning, I’m Edna Mazur’s granddaughter. Grandma Bella and my Grandma Mazur do not get along.

“D-d-doughnut,” I said to Bella.

“Get out of my way,” Bella said, pushing me aside, stepping up to the counter. “I was here first.”

Loretta’s eyes were as big as duck eggs, darting back and forth between Bella and me. “Um,” Loretta said, still holding the bakery box containing my Boston cream.

“Actually, I was here first,” I said to Bella, “but you can go ahead of me if you want.”

“What? You telling me you first? You dare to say such a thing?” Bella hit me in the arm with her purse. “You have no respect.”

“Cripes,” I said. “Get a grip.”

“Christ? You say Christ?” Bella crossed herself and pulled her rosary beads out of her pocket. “You burn in hell. You gonna get smite down. Get away from me. I don’t want to be near when it happens.”

“I didn’t say Christ. I said cripes.

“You heathen,” Bella said. “Like your Grandma Edna. She should rot in hell.”

Okay, so Bella was a crazy old lady, but that was going too far. “Hey, watch what you say about my grandmother,” I said to Bella.

Bella shook her finger at me. “I put the eye on you. I fix you good.”

Loretta sucked in air and ducked down behind the counter.

“I’m going to tell Joe on you,” I said to Bella. “You’re not supposed to be giving people the eye.”

Bella tipped her head back and looked down her nose at me. “You think he believe you over his grandma? You think he believe you when you ugly with boils? You think he believe you when you fat? When you stink like cabbage?”

Loretta whimpered from behind the counter.

“Stay down,” Bella said to Loretta. “You good girl. I don’t want you to get in the way of the eye.”

So here’s the thing with the eye. I’m pretty sure it’s a bunch of baloney. Still, there’s the outside chance that Junior Genovisi didn’t lose his hair from male pattern baldness. I mean no one else in his family ever went bald, and it happened right after Bella put the whammy on him. Then there was Rose DeMarco. She accidentally mowed Bella over with her motorized wheelchair, and the next day Rose broke out with shingles.

Loretta popped up, stuffed a bunch of doughnuts into the bakery box, and threw it at me. “Run for it!”

I caught the box and looked over at Loretta. “How many are in here? What do I owe you?”

“Nothing. Just get out of here!”

“Hah, too late for her,” Bella said to Loretta. “She got the eye now. I’ll take an almond coffee cake. I want the one in front with the most icing.”

• • •

Under normal circumstances, at this time of day I would head for the bail bonds office on Hamilton. Unfortunately the bonds office burned down to the ground not so long ago, so for the moment we’re operating out of a motor home owned by a guy named Mooner. I’ve known Mooner for a bunch of years, and he wouldn’t be my first choice for landlord, but desperate times call for desperate measures. My cousin Vinnie needed to find a place with cheap rent, and Mooner needed gas and burrito money. Voila! A mobile bail bonds office. Problem is I never

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