Sizzling Sixteen - Janet Evanovich

ONE

MY UNCLE PIP died and left me his lucky bottle. I suppose I’m fortunate, because he left my Grandma Mazur his false teeth. So I’ve got this bottle now, and I don’t exactly know what to do with it. It’s not like I have a mantel. My name is Stephanie Plum, and I live in a bare-bones apartment on the outer edge of Trenton, New Jersey. I share the apartment with my hamster, Rex, and he doesn’t know what to do with the bottle, either. The lucky bottle is the size and shape of a beer bottle. The glass is red, and it looks hand blown. It’s not entirely ugly, especially if you like beer, but it’s also not exotically pretty. And so far, it hasn’t been very lucky. I have the bottle sitting on my kitchen counter, between Rex’s hamster cage and the brown bear cookie jar that holds my gun. It was Monday morning, halfway through June, and Lula was in my apartment doing a pity pick up because my hunk-of-junk car was dead and I needed a ride to work.

“Hunh,” Lula said. “What’s that red bottle on your counter?”

“It’s my lucky bottle.”

“Oh yeah, what’s so lucky about it? It don’t look too lucky to me. Looks like one of them designer beer bottles, only it’s got a fancy glass stopper in it.”

“It’s my inheritance from Uncle Pip.”

“I remember Uncle Pip,” Lula said. “He was older than dirt, right? Had a big carbuncle on his forehead. He was the one wandered out of the senior complex a couple weeks ago during that thunderstorm, pissed on a downed electric wire, and electrocuted himself.”

“Yep. That was Uncle Pip.”

I’m a bond enforcement agent, working for my cousin Vinnie, and Lula is the office file clerk, wheelman, and fashion maven. Lula likes the challenge of fitting her plussize body into a size 8 poison green spandex miniskirt and leopard-print top, and somehow it all comes together for Lula. Lula’s skin is milk chocolate, her hair this week is fire-engine red, and her attitude is pure Jersey.

I’m a couple inches taller than Lula, and where her body is overly voluptuous, mine is more 34B. My idea of fashion is a girl-cut stretchy T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. My skin is nowhere near chocolate, my shoulder-length, naturally curly hair is plain ol’ brown and often pulled back into a ponytail, my eyes are blue, and I’m still trying to find my attitude.

I hung my purse on my shoulder and pushed Lula to the door. “We need to move. Connie called ten minutes ago, and she sounded frantic.”

“What’s with that?” Lula said. “Last time Connie was frantic was never.”

Connie Rosolli is the bail bonds office manager. My heritage is half Italian and half Hungarian. Connie is Italian through and through. Connie is a couple years older than I am, has more hair than I do and a consistently better manicure. Her desk is strategically placed in front of Vinnie’s door, the better to slow down stiffed bookies, process servers, hookers with obviously active herpes, and a stream of perverted degenerates with quick-rich schemes hatched while under the influence of who-knows-what.

I live ten minutes from the office on a day without traffic. This wasn’t one of those days, and it took Lula twenty minutes to get her red Firebird down Hamilton Avenue. Vinnie’s bail bonds business is located on Hamilton, just up from the hospital and between a dry cleaner and a used-book store. There’s a front room with large plateglass windows, an inner office where Vinnie hides, a row of file cabinets, and behind the file cabinets