Takedown Twenty

Stephanie Plum has her sights set on catching a notorious mob boss.
If she doesn’t take him down, he may take her out.

 

Takedown Twenty paperbackNew Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum knows better than to mess with family. But when powerful mobster Salvatore “Uncle Sunny” Sunucchi goes on the lam in Trenton, it’s up to Stephanie to find him. Uncle Sunny is charged with murder for running over a guy (twice), and nobody wants to turn him in—not his poker buddies, not his bimbo girlfriend, not his two right-hand men, Shorty and Moe. Even Trenton’s hottest cop, Joe Morelli, has skin in the game, because—just Stephanie’s luck—the godfather is his actual godfather. And while Morelli understands that the law is the law, his old-world grandmother, Bella, is doing everything she can to throw Stephanie off the trail.

It’s not just Uncle Sunny giving Stephanie the run-around. Security specialist Ranger needs her help to solve the bizarre death of a top client’s mother, a woman who happened to play bingo with Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur. Before Stephanie knows it, she’s working side by side with Ranger and Grandma at the senior center, trying to catch a killer on the loose—and the bingo balls are not rolling in their favor.

With bullet holes in her car, henchmen on her tail, and a giraffe named Kevin running wild in the streets of Trenton, Stephanie will have to up her game for the ultimate takedown.

TAKEDOWN TWENTY
A Stephanie Plum Novel
by Janet Evanovich
Random House

READ CHAPTER ONE – FOUR OF TAKEDOWN TWENTY IN PDF

TAKEDOWN TWENTY
CHAPTER ONE

It was late at night and Lula and I were hunting down Salvatore Sunucchi, better known as Uncle Sunny, when Lula spotted Jimmy Spit. Spit had his prehistoric Cadillac Eldorado parked on the fringe of the Trenton public housing projects, half a block from Sunucchi’s apartment, and he had the trunk lid up.

“Hold on here,” Lula said. “Jimmy’s open for business, and it looks to me like he got a trunk full of handbags. I might need one of them. A girl can never have too many handbags.”

Five minutes later, Lula was examining a purple Brahmin bag studded with what Spit claimed were Swarovski crystals. “Are you sure this is a authentic Brahmin bag?” Lula asked Spit. “I don’t want no cheap-ass imitation.”

“I have it on good authority these are the real deal,” Spit said. “And just for you I’m only charging ten bucks. How could you go wrong?”

Lula put the bag on her shoulder to take it for a test drive, and a giraffe loped past us and continued on down the road, turning left at Sixteenth Street and disappearing into the darkness.

“I didn’t see that,” Lula said.

“I didn’t see that neither,” Spit said. “You want to buy this handbag or what?”

“That was a giraffe,” I said. “It turned the corner at Sixteenth Street.”

“Probably goin’ the 7-Eleven,” Spit said. “Get a Slurpee.”

A black Cadillac Escalade with tinted windows and a satellite dish attached to the roof sped past us and hooked a left at Sixteenth. There was the sound of tires screeching to a stop, then gunfire and an ungodly shriek.

“Not only didn’t I see that giraffe, but I also didn’t see that car or hear that shit happening,” Spit said.

He grabbed the ten dollars from Lula, slammed the trunk lid shut, and took off.

“They better not have hurt that giraffe,” Lula said. “I don’t go with that stuff.”

I looked over at her. “I thought you didn’t see the giraffe.”

“I was afraid it might have been the ’shrooms on my pizza last night what was making me see things. I mean it’s not every day you see a giraffe running down the street.”

My name is Stephanie Plum, and I work as a bond enforcement officer for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. Lula is the office file clerk, but more often than not she’s my wheelman. Lula is a couple inches shorter than I am, a bunch of pounds bigger, and her skin is a lot darker. She’s a former streetwalker who gave up her corner but kept her wardrobe. She favors neon colors and animal prints, and she fearlessly tests the limits of spandex. Today her brown hair was streaked with shocking pink to match a tank top that barely contained the bounty God had bestowed on her. The tank top stopped a couple inches above her skintight, stretchy black skirt, and the skirt ended a couple inches below her ass. I’d look like an idiot if I dressed like Lula, but the whole neon pink and spandex thing worked for her.

“I gotta go see if the giraffe’s okay,” Lula said. “Those guys in the Escalade might have been big game poachers.”

“This is Trenton, New Jersey!”

Lula was hands on hips. “So was that a giraffe, or what? You don’t think it’s big game?”

Since Lula was driving we pretty much went where Lula wanted to go, so we jumped into her red Firebird and followed the giraffe.

There was no Escalade or giraffe in sight when we turned the corner at Sixteenth, but a guy was lying facedown in the middle of the road, and he wasn’t moving.

“That don’t look good,” Lula said, “but at least it’s not the giraffe.”

Lula stopped just short of the guy in the road, and we got out and took a look.

“I don’t see no blood,” Lula said. “Maybe he’s just takin’ a nap.”

“Yeah, or maybe that thing implanted in his butt is a tranquilizer dart.”

“I didn’t see that at first, but you’re right. That thing’s big enough to take down an elephant.” Lula toed the guy, but he still didn’t move. “What do you suppose we should do with him?”

I punched 911 into my phone and told them about the guy in the road. They suggested I drag him to the curb so he wouldn’t get run over, and said they’d send someone out to scoop him up.

While we waited for the EMS to show I rifled the guy’s pockets and learned that his name was Ralph Rogers. He had a Hamilton Township address, and he was fifty-four years old. He had a MasterCard and seven dollars.

The EMS truck slid in without a lot of fanfare. Two guys got out and looked at Ralph, who was still on his stomach with the dart stuck in him.

“That’s not something you see every day,” the taller of the two guys said.

“The dart might have been meant for the giraffe,” Lula told them. “Or maybe he’s one of them shape-shifters, and he used to be the giraffe.”

The two men went silent for a beat, probably trying to decide if they should get the butterfly net out for Lula.

“It’s a full moon,” the shorter one finally said.

The other guy nodded, and they loaded Ralph into the truck and drove off.

“Now what?” Lula asked me. “We going to look some more for Uncle Sunny, or we going to have a different activity, like getting a pizza at Pino’s?”

“I’m done. I’m going home. We’ll pick up Sunny’s trail tomorrow.”

Truth is, I was going home to a bottle of champagne that I had chilling in my fridge. It had been dropped off as partial payment for a job I did for my friend and sometimes employer Ranger. The champagne had come with a note suggesting that Ranger needed a date. Okay, so Ranger is hot, and luscious, and magic in bed, but that doesn’t totally compensate for the fact that the last time I was Ranger’s date I was poisoned.

The champagne had been left on my kitchen counter yesterday, and I was saving it for a special occasion. Seemed like seeing a giraffe running down the street qualified.

Lula drove me back to the bonds office, where I picked up my car, and twenty minutes later I was in my apartment, leaning against the kitchen counter, guzzling champagne. I was watching my hamster, Rex, run on his wheel when Ranger walked in.

Ranger doesn’t bother with trivial matters like knocking, and he isn’t slowed down by a locked door. He owns an elite security firm that operates out of a seven-story stealth office building located in the center of Trenton. His body is perfect, his moral code is unique, his thoughts aren’t usually shared. He’s in his early thirties, like me, but his life experience adds up to way beyond his years. He’s of Latino heritage. He’s former Special Forces. He’s sexy, smart, sometimes scary, and frequently overly protective of me. He was currently armed and wearing black fatigues with the Rangeman logo on his sleeve. That meant he was most likely filling in for one of the men on patrol.

“Working tonight?” I asked him.

“Taking the night shift for Hal.” He looked at my glass. “Are you drinking champagne out of a beer mug?”

“I don’t have any champagne glasses.”

“Babe.”

“Babe” covers a lot of ground for Ranger. It could be the prelude to getting naked. It could be total exasperation. It could be a simple greeting. Or, as in this case, I’d amused him.

Ranger smiled ever so slightly and took a step closer to me.

“Stop,” I said. “Don’t come any closer. The answer is no.”

His brown eyes locked onto me. “I didn’t ask a question.”

“You were going to.”

“True.”

“Well, don’t even think about it, because I’m not going to do it.”

“I could change your mind,” he said.

“I don’t think so.”

Okay, truth is Ranger could change my mind. Ranger can be very persuasive.

Ranger’s cellphone buzzed, he checked the message and moved to the door. “I have to go. Give me a call if you change your mind.”

“About what?”

“About anything,” Ranger said.

“Okay, wait a minute. I want to know the question.”

“No time to explain it,” Ranger said. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at seven o’clock. A little black dress would be good. Something moderately sexy.”

And he was gone.

TAKEDOWN TWENTY
CHAPTER TWO

I dragged myself out of bed when the morning sun slanted through the opening in my bedroom curtains. I showered, blasted my shoulder length curly brown hair with the blow dryer, and pulled the whole mess back into a ponytail. I brushed my teeth, swiped some mascara on my lashes, and went with cherry lip gloss.

Hunting down felons for my cousin Vinnie isn’t a great paying job, but I make my own hours, and I wear what’s comfy. A girlie t-shirt, jeans, sneakers, handcuffs and pepper spray, and I’m good to go.

I gave Rex fresh water and a Ritz cracker, grabbed the messenger bag I use as a purse, and I took off for the office. I live in a second floor, one bedroom, one bath, no frills apartment on the outskirts of Trenton. It’s not a slum, but it’s not high rent either. Mostly my apartment building is filled with seniors who take advantage of the early bird special at the diner, and live for the moment when they’ll qualify for a handicap sticker on their car. They’re all heavily armed, so the property is relatively safe, if you don’t count the incidental shootings that are the result of mistaken identity due to cataracts and macular degeneration. My apartment overlooks the parking lot, which is fine by me because I can peek out once in a while to see if anyone’s stolen my car.

It was a glorious Tuesday morning in the middle of summer and traffic was light thanks to the absence of school buses. I parked in the small parking area behind Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. There were four parking spaces and three were already filled. My cousin Vinnie’s Cadillac was there. Connie the office manger’s Toyota was there. And Lula had her red Firebird parked there. I added my rusted out, mostly white Ford Taurus to the group and went inside.

“Uh oh,” Lula said when she saw me. “You got that look.”

“What look?” I asked her.

“That look like you didn’t get any last night.”

I went straight to the coffee machine. “I almost never get any. I’m used to it. Morelli is playing catch-up with his case load.”

Joe Morelli is a Trenton plain-clothes cop working crimes against persons. I grew up with Morelli, lost my virginity to him, ran over him with my father’s Buick in a fit of justifiable rage, and now years later he’s my boyfriend. Go figure. He’s a good cop. He’s a terrific lover. And he’s got a dog. He’s six feet of hot Italian libido, with wavy black hair, a hard toned body, and brown eyes that could set my pants on fire. He’d been sidelined with a gunshot wound, but he was back on the job, popping pain pills.

“So then how come you got that look this morning, like you need at least three doughnuts?” Lula asked.

“Ranger came by last night.”

Lula leaned forward, eyes wide. “Say what?”

Connie looked up from her computer. “And?”

“He wanted a date.”

“I’m havin’ heart palpitations,” Lula said. “That is one fine man. Fact is that is the hottest man I ever saw. You did the nasty with him last night, right? I want to know everything.”

“I didn’t do anything with him. He wanted a date for tonight.”

“Holy crap,” Lula said.

“And?” Connie said.

“And I had a restless night thinking about it,” I told them.

“I bet,” Lula said. “If it was me I would have been burning out the motor on my intimate appliances.”

I checked out the box of doughnuts on Connie’s desk and chose a maple glazed. “Last time I agreed to be Ranger’s date his friend blew himself up in my apartment.”

“Yeah, but Ranger brought in a cleaning crew to get the brains and guts off the walls,” Lula said. “That was real thoughtful.”

“What’s new?” I asked Connie. “Anything good come in for me?”

I don’t get paid a salary. I make my money by retrieving felons for Vinnie. When someone is accused of a crime they can sit in jail until trial or they can give the court a bucket load of money as a guarantee that they’ll return. If they don’t have the money, they go to my cousin and he puts up a bond for a fee. If the bondee doesn’t show for court, the court keeps Vinnie’s money. This doesn’t make Vinnie happy, so he sends me out to find the guy and drag him back to jail. Then I get a percentage of the money Vinnie gets back from the court.

“Nothing interesting,” Connie said. “Just a couple low money bonds. Ziggy Radiewski didn’t show up for court, and Mary Treetrunk didn’t show up for court.”

“What’d Ziggy do this time?” Lula wanted to know.

“He relieved himself on Mrs. Bilson’s dog,” Connie said. “And then he mooned Mrs. Bilson. He said it was accidental, and he was a victim of temporary insanity due to alcohol poisoning.”

“He probably got that right,” Lula said.

“I don’t care about any of those,” Vinnie yelled from his inner office. “Why haven’t you grabbed Uncle Sunny? He’s a big bond. He killed a guy, for crissake. What the hell are you waiting for? Put the freakin’ doughnut down and go to work. You think I pay you to sit around, eating doughnuts?”

“You keep talking like that and I’m gonna come in your office and sit on you and squish you into nothing but a ugly grease spot,” Lula said.

The door to Vinnie’s office slammed closed and the bolt thunked into place.

“He’s not having a good morning,” Connie said. “We’re running in the red, and Harry is unhappy.”

Harry the Hammer owns the bonds office. He also happens to be Vinnie’s father-in-law. Legend has it Harry got his name when he was a mob enforcer and persuaded customers to meet their financial obligations on time by hammering nails into their various body parts. I assume this was back in the days before pneumatic nail guns became the tool of choice for carpenters and wise guys.

I took the two new files from Connie and stuffed them into my messenger bag.

“We did a four hour stake-out on Uncle Sunny last night,” I said to Connie. “The only thing that came of it was a new handbag for Lula.”

“Jimmy Spit was selling Brahmin’s and he gave me a good price,” Lula said to Connie. “I always wanted a Brahmin, and this is from their new designer Atelier line. This here’s a pricey handbag.”

Lula put the handbag on her shoulder and modeled it for Connie.

“I’ve never seen a Brahmin bag with rhinestones,” Connie said.

“That’s on account of these are crystals and they’re going in a new direction,” Lula said. “You can tell it’s a Brahmin by the little silver name plate on it says Brahmin.”

Connie looked at the nameplate. “It doesn’t say Brahmin. It says Brakmin.”

“Hunh,” Lula said, glancing down at the bag. “Must be a misspelling. Things like that happen, and it don’t matter anyways, because it’s a excellent bag, and it goes with my shoes.”

“Maybe you need to talk to Uncle Sunny’s neighbors,” Connie said to me. “And his relatives. Isn’t he related to Morelli?”

“He’s Joe’s Godfather,” I told her. “And his uncle. He’s Grandma Bella’s nephew.”

TAKEDOWN TWENTY
CHAPTER THREE

“Oops,” Connie said.  “That could get sticky.”

Joe’s Grandma Bella emigrated from Sicily a lot of years ago, but she still spoke with a heavy accent, she still dressed in black like a movie extra from The Godfather, and she put curses on people who she felt disrespected her.  Probably the curses weren’t real and people got boils and had their hair fall out purely by coincidence, still the woman scared the beejeezus out of me.

“It’s not just Bella,” I said.  “Everyone loves Uncle Sunny.  No one will rat on him.”

“Worse than that,” Lula said.  “We asked at The Tip Top Deli if they knew where Sunny was hiding, and they told us we should be ashamed to be going after Uncle Sunny.  And then they wouldn’t serve us lunch.  And they told us never to come back.  And that don’t make me happy since I formerly considered their egg salad to be a important feature in my diet.”

“I don’t suppose you heard anything on the police band about a giraffe galloping down 16th Street last night?” I asked Connie.

“No,” Connie said.  “Was I supposed to?”

“We think we might have seen one,” Lula said.

Connie raised an eyebrow.

“At least it seemed like it was a giraffe last night,” Lula said.  “But then when I woke up this morning I had a couple doubts.”

I chugged down my coffee and doughnut and turned to Lula.  “I’m going back to Uncle Sunny’s apartment building to talk to his neighbors.  Are you riding along?”

“Only if I get to drive.  Your radio is busted, and I need tunes.”

 

*     *     *

 

Uncle Sunny lived on the second floor of a four-story brownstone walk-up on the corner of 15th and Morgan.  Mindy’s Nail Salon occupied the first floor and served as a front for a variety of semi-illegal activities, such as loan sharking, flesh peddling, and bookmaking.  Since Uncle Sunny lived on the second floor there was the potential for additional sidelines involving whacking and property owners insurance enforcement.  On the surface it might seem like Sunny lived in modest surroundings, but truth is he owned the building.  In fact Sunny owned the entire block.  And his real estate investment didn’t stop there.

“I don’t get it,” Lula said, parking at the curb in front of Sunny’s building.  “What’s so special about this guy?  Why’s everybody love him?”

“He’s charming,” I said.  “He’s sixty-two years old, 5’6” inches tall, and he sings Sinatra songs at weddings.  He flirts with old ladies.  He wears a red bow tie to funerals.  On Thanksgiving and Christmas he helps out in the St. Ralph’s soup kitchen.  He’s very generous with tips.  And he’s a member of the Sunnuchi/Morelli family which makes up half of The Burg, and sticks together no matter how much they hate each other.”

And I’m pretty sure he also occasionally killed people, set fire to businesses, and fornicated with other men’s wives.  None of this was especially noteworthy in Trenton, and it for sure couldn’t compete with a red bowtie or the ability to croon Sinatra.

Sinatra is still big in The Burg, a working class neighborhood in Trenton.  I grew up in The Burg, and my parents, my sister and her family, and my grandmother still live there.  The bonds office is across the street from The Burg.  And St. Frances Hospital is located in The Burg.  Plus there are four bakeries, twelve restaurants, five pizza parlors, a funeral home, three Italian social clubs, and there’s a bar on every corner in The Burg.

Lula had parked in front of Uncle Sunny’s building, and we stood on the sidewalk, looking up at the second floor windows.

“I don’t see nothing happening up there,” Lula said.

A balding, overweight, fiftyish man went into the nail salon and was shown into the back room.

“I bet he gonna get the special,” Lula said.  “You come in before noon and you get a pedicure and a BJ for half price.  Mindy wanted me to work for her back when I was a ‘ho, but I declined.  I didn’t want to have to deal with the whole pedicure thing.  I don’t do feet.  A girl’s gotta draw a line somewhere, you see what I’m saying?”

I punched Sunny’s number into my cell phone and listened to it ring.  No answer.  I marched into the building with Lula a step behind me.  We took the stairs to the second floor and found Sunny’s apartment.  Easy to do since there were only two apartments to a floor.  I knocked on his door and waited.  Nothing.  I knocked again.

“Maybe he’s dead,” Lula said.  “He could be laying on the floor toes up.  Probably we should go in and see.”

I tried the door.  Locked.

“I’d bust it in, but I got heels on,” Lula said.  “It wouldn’t be lady-like.”

I went across the hall and rang the bell.  “Go away,” someone yelled from inside the apartment.

“I want to talk to you,” I yelled back.

The door was wrenched open, and a woman glared out at me.  “What?”

“I’m looking for Uncle Sunny,” I said.

“And?”

“I thought you might know where he is.”

“What do I look like, his mother? Do I look like I keep track of Uncle Sunny?  And anyways what do you want with him?  Are you the police?”

“Bond enforcement,” I told her.

“Hey Jake!” the woman yelled.

A big, slobbering black dog padded around the corner and stood behind the woman.

“Kill!” the woman said.

The dog lunged at us, Lula and I jumped back, and the dog clamped onto Lula’s purse and ripped it off her shoulder.

“That’s my new bag,” Lula said.  “It’s almost a Brahmin.”

TAKEDOWN TWENTY
CHAPTER FOUR

The dog shook the bag until it was dead, and then he eyed Lula.

“Uh oh,” Lula said.  “I don’t like the way he’s looking at me.  I’d shoot him, but he got my gun.”  She cut her eyes to me.  “You got a gun?”

I was slowly inching my way toward the stairs.  “No,” I whispered.  “No gun.”  Not that it mattered because I couldn’t shoot a dog even if its eyes were glowing red and its head was rotating.

The dog took a step toward us, and Lula and I turned tail and ran.  Lula missed a step, crashed into me, and we rolled ass over teakettles, down the stairs, landing in a heap on the foyer floor.

“Lucky I ended on top of you, or I might have hurt myself,” Lula said.

I hauled myself up and limped out the door.  This wasn’t the first time Lula and I had crash-landed at the bottom of a flight of stairs.  A window opened on the second floor, Lula’s purse sailed out, and the window slammed shut.

Lula retrieved the mangled bag.  “At least I got my gun back,” she said.  “Now what are we going to do?  You want to go for breakfast?  I wouldn’t mind having one of them breakfast sandwiches.”

Vinnie’s going to hound me until I find Uncle Sunny.”

“Yeah, but this looking for Uncle Sunny is making us unpopular, and I think I got a bruise from landing on you.  I hear bacon is real good for healing a bruise.”

I thumbed through Sunny’s file.  He was charged with second-degree murder for running over Victor Dugan …twice.  I suspected he’d done a lot worse, but this time he’d been caught on video by a kid with an iPhone who’d posted it on YouTube.  Since everyone who knew Victor Dugan (including his ninety year old mother) hated him, the video only served to enhance Sunny’s popularity.

Two men in their mid-fifties ambled out of the nail salon.  They were balding, paunchy, wearing bowling shirts, pleated slacks, and pinky rings.  One of the men had the name Shorty written on his shirt above the breast pocket.

“Hey,” Shorty said, eyeballing me.  “We hear you been asking about Sunny.”

“I work for his bail bonds agent,” I told him.  “Sunny is in violation of his bail agreement.  He needs to reschedule a court date.”

“Maybe he don’t want to do that,” Shorty said.  “Maybe he got better things to do with his time.”

“If he doesn’t reschedule, he’s considered a felon.”

Shorty snickered.  “Of course he’s a fella.  Everybody knows he’s a fella.  What are you stupid or something?”

“Felon.  Not fella.  Felon.  A fugitive from the law.”

“Watch your mouth,” Shorty said.  “You don’t go around calling good people like Sunny names that could tarnish his reputation.  He could sue you for slandering him.”

“So do you know where he is?” I asked him.

“Sure.  He’s where he always is at this time of the day.”

“And where would that be?”

“I’m not telling you.  And you better back off, girlie, or I might have to get rough.  I might have to shoot you or something.”

“Blah, blah, blah,” Lula said.  “You and who else gonna do that, Shorty?”

“Me and him,” Shorty said, cutting his eyes to the guy next to him.  “Me and Mo.  Isn’t that right, Mo?”

“Yeah,” Mo said.  “We don’t like people trash talking Sunny.”

“And furthermore I don’t like the way you said my name,” Shorty said to Lula.  “It was like you were implying I was short.”

“You are short,” Lula said.  “You’re short.  You’re going bald.  And unless you just come from a bowling alley, you got no taste in clothes.”

“Oh yeah?  Well you should talk,” Shorty said.  “You’re fat.”

Lula narrowed her eyes, stuffed her fists onto her hips and leaned forward so that she was almost nose-to-nose with Shorty.  “Say what?  Did I just hear that you think I’m fat? ‘Cause that better not be the case on account of then I’d have to pound you into something looks like a hamburger pattie.”

I glanced left and saw the giraffe gallop across the street a couple blocks away.  “Holy cow,” I said.  “It’s the giraffe.”

Lula whipped her head around.  “Where’d he go?  I don’t see no giraffe.”

“He galloped across the street at Eighteenth.”

“Gotta go,” Lula said to Shorty.  “Things to do.”

READ CHAPTER ONE – FOUR OF TAKEDOWN TWENTY IN PDF


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Copyright © 2014 Janet Evanovich.