High Five (Stephanie Plum Series #5)

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Overview

In her fifth high-octane thriller, bounty hunter Stephanie Plum sets out to find her missing uncle-- and along the way smacks slam-bang into: a dead body, a nasty bookie, her stun-gun-toting grandmother, two very sexy men, an angry little man who won't leave her apartment, and a Mafia wedding...

Jersey's favorite bounty hunter has never been better! With high hair, street smarts and plenty of attitude, Steph's...

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Overview

In her fifth high-octane thriller, bounty hunter Stephanie Plum sets out to find her missing uncle-- and along the way smacks slam-bang into: a dead body, a nasty bookie, her stun-gun-toting grandmother, two very sexy men, an angry little man who won't leave her apartment, and a Mafia wedding...

Jersey's favorite bounty hunter has never been better! With high hair, street smarts and plenty of attitude, Steph's sure to nail this case-- or risk life and spandex-clad limb trying...

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year.
A People Magazine Beach Book of the Week.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
From the day Stephanie Plum first started tracking down bail jumpers for her cousin Vinnie, neither bounty hunting nor the city of Trenton have ever been the same. Now, in High Five, Janet Evanovich's fifth installment in the Plum series, New Jersey's most entertaining bounty hunter is back on the trail again with the monstrous powder-blue Buick and the usual cast of zany characters at her side. There's stun-gun-packing Grandma Mazur, who has redefined the term "riding shotgun," and Lula, the black, bodacious, and bountiful hooker-turned-file-clerk who is just itching to bag herself a bail jumper. Of course, there's also vice officer Joe Morelli, with his fine-fitting jeans and a way of making Stephanie forget all but his presence. But after getting a little too close for comfort in the last book, Stephanie and Morelli have agreed to step back and take things slower, which allows Ranger — Stephanie's sexy and mysterious mentor — to step in and give Morelli a run for his money.

Stephanie's big case this time is a personal one, the result of high pressure from the family and an extremely low caseload at the office. She is trying to find her missing Uncle Fred, who went to the bank and grocery store three days ago and never returned. The only clue is a picture of an unidentifiable body in a garbage bag. While Stephanie is only too happy to help out the family, there is the little matter of the rent to pay and food to buy, and Uncle Fred's case is a freebie. Hoping to make enough to tide her over for a short while, Stephanie makes two fatal decisions. The first is toaskRanger, who never seems to be at a loss for money or sleek and sexy black cars, if he has any jobs she can do to tide her over. The second is to bring in what appears to be a low-paying but easy-to-find bail jumper, Randy Briggs. This second option looks like even easier money when Stephanie discovers Briggs is all of three feet tall, but Briggs, who gets a tad testy when he's called a midget, isn't as easy as he looks and refuses to be brought in by a "loser" like Stephanie. His success in avoiding capture and his constant taunting push Stephanie over the edge until finally, in a fit of pique, she bashes in his door and practically throws him down a flight of stairs.

Meanwhile, Ranger offers Stephanie a series of jobs that quickly become a series of disasters. But there is pay involved and the side perk of a company car, which frees Stephanie from having to drive the hated but seemingly indestructible Buick. Problem is, Stephanie has always had a penchant for having things blow up or burn down around her, and both her new jobs and her new wheels are short-lived as a result. To make matters worse, her investigation into Uncle Fred's disappearance is going nowhere and there's a nasty bookie following her around, making her life miserable. About the only good thing in Stephanie's life is the way both Morelli and Ranger seem determined to get her into bed. But neither of them is likely to get very far, since Stephanie has virtually no privacy. Not only is the mysterious bookie showing up inside her apartment unannounced; Randy Briggs has moved himself in lock, stock, and attitude, feeling it's only fair that Stephanie put him up while the door she ruined back at his own place is being repaired.

As disturbing details about Uncle Fred's disappearance surface, the body count for both people and cars mounts. Will Stephanie be able to solve the mystery before a vicious killer comes after her? Will she get her man in the end? (And in the case of Morelli and Ranger, which man will it be?) The answer is yes on all counts, but not before plenty of wisecracking comments, madcap adventures, and sidesplitting fun.

Beth Amos

Dallas Morning News
Steamy.
Marilyn Stasio
Like Stephanie's awesome wardrobe, the plot is a grab bag of colorful bits and pieces that don't really go together but are great fun to play with.
The New York Times Book Review
Jill M. Smith
Welcome back to the weird, wonderful and wacky world of Stephanie Plum. Janet Evanovich’s genius for delivering hilarious scenarios laced with intrigue and danger continues to be unmatched!
Romantic Times
USA Today
A Fun Romp.
San Francisco Examiner
Evanovich is the master.
Washington Post Book World
Terrific
Jill M. Smith
Welcome back to the weird and wonderful world of Stephanie Plum. Janet Evanovich's genius for delivering hilarious scenarios laced with intrigue and danger is unmatched!
Romantic Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Actress Mazar (Goodfellas) has just the right sassy streetwise accent to fit the first-person voice of Evanovich's hero, Stephanie Plum. Mazar sounds poised yet real in her role as the New Jersey-based bounty hunter (the fifth adventure in the series and the second reading for Mazar). She gamely throws herself into the dramatic "bits" along the way, playing out the dialogue scenes with relish. Plum is a tough character, coolly navigating her way through the male-dominated terrain of North Jersey's criminal element. But she's also fragile on the inside, sensitive and haunted by the violence and chaos in her life. Her boss, her cousin Vinnie, runs a business that naturally attracts lowlifes prone to nasty crimes: a man blows himself up with a bomb, a homicidal boxer is on the rampage. Meantime, the love of Plum's life, Morelli, a rakish Trenton vice cop, treats her badly. But her luck isn't all bad, as when she is given a Porsche (she rationalizes, "When you had a car like this, you didn't mind so much that your boyfriend was boinking a skank"). On tape, Plum's attitude holds more sway than the plot, as she sails from case to case with a blistering irreverence that's sure to keep listeners charmed. Based on the 1999 St. Martin's hardcover. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This time, Stephanie Plum has a lot on her plate: she's dodging a homicidal rapist, hunting for a missing uncle, and tangling with a topnotch bounty hunter named Ranger.
Washington Post
Fresh.
Jill M. Smith
Welcome back to the weird, wonderful and wacky world of Stephanie Plum. Janet Evanovich’s genius for delivering hilarious scenarios laced with intrigue and danger continues to be unmatched!
Romantic Times
Dugan
High Five is a hilarious look at a risky occupation as well as a rollicking mystery... Janet Evanovich's outstanding characterizations make this book something special.
The Mystery Review
Kirkus Reviews
Stephanie Plum, the bodacious bounty-hunter from Trenton, New Jersey, returns for her fifth adventure (Four to Score, 1998, etc.). Or rather misadventure, since nothing ever goes right for Stephanie, thank heaven. This time out the trouble (and fun) starts when Steph's mom informs her that Uncle Fred is missing. Actually, nobody could really miss the disagreeable old coot, but he is family. And either the Plums stick together, Stephanie's told, or they get picked off separately. Besides, not much is happening in the way of miscreants jumping bail, which means she's got time on her hands. The hunt commences. Soon enough, Steph discovers that dead-head Fred is connected to some high-powered scams nobody would have believed he had the gumption for. In turn, this has the effect of connecting Steph to various hard guys who mean her serious harm. So she scrambles an egg and downs a multivitamin with her orange juice: "A healthy breakfast to start the day off right — just in case I lived through the morning." The ensuing complications include: Champ Ramirez, that no-account sociopath, freed from the slammer and on the prowl for her; hunkish Detective Joe Morelli and his special kind of prowling — everlastingly lustful; and now senior bounty-hunter Ranger the dangerous, her erstwhile mentor, casting looks at her that are distinctly non-mentorish. What's a Jersey girl to do about all this? Something outrageous, of course, that leads to a mad chase on the turnpike — and readers grinning appreciatively at another wonderful romp. Savvy, sassy, sexy Stephanie — good to have her back.
From the Publisher

“Actress Mazar has just the right sassy streetwise accent to fit the first-person voice of Evanovich’s hero, Stephanie Plum. Mazar sounds poised yet real in her role as the New Jersey-based bounty hunter. She gamely throws herself into the dramatic ‘bits’ along the way, playing out the dialogue scenes with relish.”—Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312971342
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2000
  • Series: Stephanie Plum Series , #5
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 340
  • Sales rank: 68,763
  • Product dimensions: 6.76 (w) x 10.92 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Janet  Evanovich

Janet Evanovich is the recipient of the Crime Writers Association’s John Creasy Memorial, Last Laugh, and Silver Dagger Awards, as well as the Left Coast Crime’s Lefty award, and is the two-time recipient of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association’s Dilys award. She lives in New Hampshire, where she is at work on her next Stephanie Plum adventure.

Debi Mazar, a New York native, made her feature film debut in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas as Ray Liotta's junkie mistress.  From that auspicious beginning, she has appeared in numerous films, such as Little Man Tate, Toys, Bullets Over Broadway, Batman Forever, The Insider, Collateral, and Be Cool. She has had recurring roles on The Practice, the HBO series Entourage and Ugly Betty, and has appeared on Dancing with the Stars. Debi has narrated a number of titles of the New York Times #1 bestselling Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich.

Biography

When plucky Stephanie Plum lost her job as a lingerie buyer, she had little other choice than to take a position working for her cousin Vinnie's bail-bonds office where she'd spend her days and nights hunting down fugitives, solving mysteries, and falling ass-backwards into adventure. Come to think of it, Ms. Plum has more than a little in common with her creator Janet Evanovich.

Much like the panty-pushing Plum, Evanovich once made her trade in erotica as a romance novelist for the trashy Bantam series "Loveswept." Tiring of the genre and finding herself increasingly fixated on crime, mystery, and the kind of adventures she came to love through comic books like Uncle Scrooge, she decided to ditch steamy stories in favor of off-the-wall humor and feats of daring. As Evanovich said on her website, "after twelve romance novels I ran out of sexual positions and decided to move into the mystery genre."

The resulting Stephanie Plum Mysteries reflect Evanovich's love for comics, toys, shoe-shopping, Cheez Doodles, and beer. Evanovich also created a memorable character that shares many of the author's distinctive traits, such as her self-effacing, dirty-minded wit. The Plum Mysteries, while often rambling and thin on plot, are never anything less than entertaining, hilarious, and refreshing in every way.

Stephanie Plum made her debut in 1994's One For the Money, in which she tracked down Joe Morelli, an ex-cop and murder suspect who'd also been guilty of taking Stephanie's virginity when she was 18. The novel's sly mix of sexiness and childlike playfulness made for a sort of young adult novel for adults.

Since then, the red-hot bounty hunter and a crew of misfits that includes retired hooker Lula, aging bail-jumper Eddie Decooch, and Plum's own hipster granny have romped their way "through the numbers," establishing Evanovich as one of the best and most inventive writers of "Strong Woman" mysteries and guaranteeing her a place on the New York Times bestseller list.

In 2004, Evanovich introduced a smart, savvy new series featuring Alexander "Barney" Barnaby, a sexy Baltimore car mechanic, NASCAR nut, and amateur sleuth with her own posse of delightful eccentrics. She's not Plum, but she's definitely a peach. Hey, what else would you expect from a Janet Evanovich heroine?

Good To Know

Evanovich's motorcycle-riding daughter Alex has created an online comic about her hamster called "Batster," which her mother proudly displays on her web site. With episodes like "Batster vs. Beerzilla," it's clear that wackiness runs in the Evanovich genes.

If you think the Stephanie Plum novels are zany, wait till you hear about what Evanovich was writing before she started getting published. As she explains on her web site, "The first story [I ever wrote] was about the pornographic adventures of a fairy who lived in a second rate fairy forest in Pennsylvania."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Steffie Hall
    2. Hometown:
      Hanover, New Hampshire
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 22, 1943
    2. Place of Birth:
      South River, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., Douglass College, 1965
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

When I was a little girl I used to dress Barbie up without underpants. On the outside, she'd look like the perfect lady. Tasteful plastic heels, tailored suit. But underneath, she was naked. I'm a bail enforcement agent now --also known as a fugitive apprehension agent, also known as a bounty hunter. I bring 'em back dead or alive. At least I try. And being a bail enforcement agent is sort of like being bare-bottom Barbie. It's about having a secret. And it's about wearing a lot of bravado on the outside when you're really operating without underpants. Okay, maybe it's not like that for all enforcement agents, but I frequently feel like my privates are alfresco. Figuratively speaking, of course.

At the moment I wasn't feeling nearly so vulnerable. What I was feeling at the moment was desperate. My rent was due, and Trenton had run out of scofflaws. I had my hands palms down on Connie Rosolli's desk, my feet planted wide, and hard as I tried, I couldn't keep my voice from sounding like it was coming out of Minnie Mouse. "What do you mean there are no FTAs? There are always FTAs."

"Sorry," Connie said. "We've got lots of bonds posted, but nobody's jumping. Must have something to do with the moon."

FTA is short for failure to appear for a court date. Going FTA is a definite no-no in the criminal justice system, but that doesn't usually stop people from doing it.

Connie slid a manila folder over to me. "This is the only FTA I've got, and it's not worth much."

Connie is the office manager for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. She's a couple years older than me, which puts her in her early thirties. She wears her hair teased high. She takes grief from no on e. And if breasts were money Connie'd be Bill Gates.

"Vinnie's overjoyed," Connie said. "He's making money by the fistful. No bounty hunters to pay. No forfeited bonds. Last time I saw Vinnie in a mood like this was when Madame Zaretsky was arrested for pandering and sodomy and put her trained dog up as collateral for her bond."

I cringed at the mental image this produced because not only is Vincent Plum my employer, he's also my cousin. I blackmailed him into taking me on as an apprehension agent at a low moment in my life and have come to sort of like the job ...most of the time. That doesn't mean I have any illusions about Vinnie. For the most part, Vinnie is an okay bondsman. But privately, Vinnie is a boil on the backside of my family tree.

As a bail bondsman Vinnie gives the court a cash bond as a securement that the accused will return for trial. If the accused takes a hike, Vinnie forfeits his money. Since this isn't an appealing prospect to Vinnie, he sends me out to find the accused and drag him back into the system. My fee is ten percent of the bond, and I only collect it if I'm successful.

I flipped the folder open and read the bond agreement. "Randy Briggs. Arrested for carrying concealed. Failed to appear at his court hearing." The bond amount was seven hundred dollars. That meant I'd get seventy. Not a lot of money for risking my life by going after someone who was known to carry.

"I don't know," I said to Connie, "this guy carries a knife."

Connie looked at her copy of Briggs' arrest sheet. "It says here it was a small knife, and it wasn't sharp."

"How small?"

"Eight inches."

"That isn't small!"

"Nobody else wil l take this," Connie said. "Ranger doesn't take anything under ten grand." Ranger is my mentor and a world-class tracker. Ranger also never seems to be in dire need of rent money. Ranger has other sources of income.

I looked at the photo attached to Briggs' file. Briggs didn't look so bad. In his forties, narrow-faced and balding, Caucasian. Job description was listed as self-employed computer programmer.

I gave a sigh of resignation and stuffed the folder into my shoulder bag. "I'll go talk to him."

"Probably he just forgot," Connie said. "Probably this is a piece of cake."

I gave her my yeah, right look and left. It was Monday morning and traffic was humming past Vinnie's store front office. The October sky was as blue as sky gets in New Jersey, and the air felt crisp and lacking hydrocarbons. It was nice for a change, but it kind of took all the sport out of breathing.

A new red Firebird slid to curbside behind my '53 Buick. Lula got out of the car and stood hands on hips, shaking her head. "Girl, you still driving that pimp mobile?"

s20Lula did filing for Vinnie and knew all about pimp mobiles first hand since in a former life she'd been a 'ho. She's what is gently referred to as a big woman, weighing in at a little over 200 pounds, standing five-foot-five, looking like most of her weight's muscle. This week her hair was dyed orange and came off very autumn with her dark brown skin.

"This is a classic car," I told Lula. Like we both knew I really gave a fig about classic cars. I was driving The Beast because my Honda had caught fire and burned to a cinder, and I didn't have any money to replace it. So here I was, borrowing my Uncle Sandor's gas guzzl ing behemoth ...again.

"Problem is, you aren't living up to your earning potential," Lula said. "We only got chicken shit cases these days. What you need is to have a serial killer or a homicidal rapist jump bail. Those boys are worth something."

"Yeah, I'd sure like to get a case like that." Big fib. If Vinnie ever gave me a homicidal rapist to chase down I'd quit and get a job selling shoes.

Lula marched into the office, and I slid behind the wheel and reread the Briggs file. Randy Briggs had given the same address for home and work. Cloverleaf Apartments on Grand Avenue. It wasn't far from the office. Maybe a mile. I pulled into traffic, made an illegal U-turn at the intersection, and followed Hamilton to Grand.

The Cloverleaf Apartments building was two blocks down Grand. It was red brick faced and strictly utilitarian. Three stories. A front and a back entrance. Small lot to the rear. No ornamentation. Aluminum-framed windows that were popular in the fifties and looked cheesy now.

I parked in the lot and walked into the small lobby. There was an elevator to one side and stairs to the other. The elevator looked claustrophobic and unreliable, so I took the stairs to the second floor. Briggs was 2B. I stood outside his door for a moment, listening. Nothing drifted out. No television. No talking. I pressed the doorbell and stood to the side, so I wasn't visible through the security peep hole.

Randy Briggs opened his door and stuck his head out. "Yeah?"

He looked exactly like his photo, with sandy blond hair that was neatly combed, cut short. He was unbearded, unblemished. Dressed in clean khakis and a button-down shirt. Just like I'd expected from hi s file ...except he was only three feet tall. Randy Briggs was vertically challenged.

"Oh shit," I said, looking down at him.

"What's the matter?" he said. "You never see a short person before?"

"Only on television."

"Guess this is your lucky day."

I handed him my business card. "I represent Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. You've missed your court date, and we'd appreciate it if you'd reschedule."

"No," Briggs said.

"Excuse me?"

"No. I'm not going to reschedule. No. I'm not going to court. It was a bogus arrest."

"The way our system works is that you're supposed to tell that to the judge."

"Fine. Go get the judge."

"The judge doesn't do house calls."

"Listen, I got a lot of work to do," Briggs said, closing his door. "I gotta go."

"Hold it!" I said. "You can't just ignore an order to appear in court."

"Watch me."

"You don't understand. I'm appointed by the court and Vincent Plum to bring you in."

"Oh yeah? How do you expect to do that? You going to shoot me? You can't shoot an unarmed man." He stuck his hands out. "You gonna cuff me? You think you can drag me out of my apartment and down the hall without looking like an idiot? Big bad bounty hunter picking on a little person. And that's what we're called, Toots. Not midget, not dwarf, not a freaking Munchkin. Little person. Get it?"

My pager went off at my waist. I looked down to check the read-out and slam. Briggs closed and locked his door.

"Loser," he called from inside.

Well, that didn't go as smoothly as I'd hoped. I had a choice now. I could break down his door and beat the bejeezus out of him, or I could answer my moth er's page. Neither was especially appealing, but I decided on my mother.

My parents live in a residential pocket of Trenton nicknamed the Burg. No one ever really leaves the Burg. You can relocate in Antarctica, but if you were born and raised in the Burg you're a Burger for life. Houses are small and obsessively neat. Televisions are large and loud. Lots are narrow. Families are extended. There are no pooper-scooper laws in the Burg. If your dog does his business on someone else's lawn, the next morning the doodoo will be on your front porch. Life is simple in the Burg.

I put the Buick into gear, rolled out of the apartment building lot, headed for Hamilton, and followed Hamilton to St. Francis Hospital. My parents live a couple blocks behind St. Francis on Roosevelt Street. Their house is a duplex built at a time when families needed only one bathroom and dishes were washed by hand.

My mother was at the door when I pulled to the curb. My grandmother Mazur stood elbow to elbow with my mother. They were short, slim women with facial features that suggested Mongol ancestors ...probably in the form of crazed marauders.

"Thank goodness you're here," my mother said, eyeing me as I got out of the car and walked toward her. "What are those shoes? They look like work boots."

"Betty Szajak and Emma Getz and me went to that male dancer place last week," Grandma said, "and they had some men parading around, looking like construction workers, wearing boots just like those. Then next thing you knew they ripped their clothes off and all they had left was those boots and these little silky black baggie things that their ding-dongs jiggled around in."

My mother pressed her lips together and made the sign of the cross. "You didn't tell me about this," she said to my grandmother.

"Guess it slipped my mind. Betty and Emma and me were going to Bingo at the church, but it turned out there wasn't any Bingo on account of the Knights of Columbus was holding some to-do there. So we decided to check out the men at that new club downtown." Grandma gave me an elbow. "I put a fiver right in one of those baggies!"

"Jesus H. Christ," my father said, rattling his paper in the living room.

Grandma Mazur came to live with my parents several years ago when my Grandpa Mazur went to the big poker game in the sky. My mother accepts this as a daughter's obligation. My father has taken to reading Guns & Ammo.

"So what's up?" I asked. "Why did you page me?"

"We need a detective," Grandma said.

My mother rolled her eyes and ushered me in to the kitchen. "Have a cookie," she said, setting the cookie jar on the small Formica-topped kitchen table. "Can I get you a glass of milk? Some lunch?"

I lifted the lid on the cookie jar and looked inside. Chocolate chip. My favorite.

"Tell her," Grandma said to my mother, giving her a poke in the side. "Wait until you hear this," she said to me. "This is a good one."

I raised my eyebrows at my mother.

"We have a family problem," my mother said. "Your Uncle Fred is missing. He went out to the store and hasn't come home yet."

"When did he go out?"

"Friday."

I paused with a cookie halfway to my mouth. "It's Monday!"

"Isn't this a pip?" Grandma said. "I bet he was beamed up by aliens."

Uncle Fred is married to my Grandma Mazur's first cousin Mabel. If I had to guess his age I'd have to say somewhere between seventy and infinity. Once people start to stoop and wrinkle they all look alike to me. Uncle Fred was someone I saw at weddings and funerals and once in awhile at Giovichinni's Meat Market, ordering a quarter pound of olive loaf. Eddie Such, the butcher, would have the olive loaf on the scale and Uncle Fred would say, "You've got the olive loaf on a piece of waxed paper. How much does that piece of waxed paper weigh? You're not gonna charge me for that waxed paper, are you? I want some money off for the waxed paper.

I shoved the cookie into my mouth. "Have you filed a missing persons report with the police?"

"Mabel did that first thing," my mother said.

"And?"

"And they haven't found him."

I went to the refrigerator and poured out a glass of milk for myself. "What about the car? Did they find the car?"

"The car was in the Grand Union parking lot. It was all locked up nice and neat."

"He was never right after that stroke he had in ninety-five," Grandma said. "I don't think his elevator went all the way to the top anymore, if you know what I mean. He could have just wandered off like one of those Alzheimer's people. Anybody think to check the cereal aisle in the supermarket? Maybe he's just standing there 'cause he can't make up his mind."

My father mumbled something from the living room about my grandmother's elevator, and my mother slid my father a dirty look through the kitchen wall.

I thought it was too weird. Uncle Fred was missing. This sort of thing just didn't happen in our family. "Did anybody go out to look for him?"

up0
"Ronald and Walter. They covered all the neighbo rhoods around the Grand Union, but nobody's seen him."

Ronald and Walter were Fred's sons. And probably they'd enlisted their kids to help, too.

"We figure you're just the person to take a crack at this," grandma said, "on account of that's what you do ...you find people."

"I find criminals."

"Your Aunt Mabel would be grateful if you'd look for Fred," my mother said. "Maybe you could just go over and talk to her and see what you think."

"She needs a detective," I said. "I'm not a detective."

"Mabel asked for you. She said she didn't want this going out of the family."

My internal radar dish started to hum. "Is there something you're not telling me?"

"What's to tell," my mother said. "A man wandered off from his car."

I drank my milk and rinsed the glass. "Okay, I'll go talk to Aunt Mabel. But I'm not promising anything."

Uncle Fred and Aunt Mabel live on Baker Street, on the fringe of the Burg, three blocks over from my parents. Their ten-year-old Pontiac station wagon was parked at the curb and just about spanned the length of their row house. They've lived in the row house for as long as I can remember, raising two children, entertaining five grandchildren and annoying the hell out of each other for over fifty years.

Aunt Mabel answered my knock on her door. She was a rounder, softer version of Grandma Mazur. Her white hair was perfectly permed. She was dressed in yellow polyester slacks and a matching floral blouse. Her earrings were large clip-ons, her lipstick was a bright red, and her eyebrows were brown crayon.

"Well, isn't this nice," Aunt Mabel said. "Come into the kitchen. I got a coffee cake from Giovic hinni today. It's the good kind, with the almonds."

Certain proprieties were observed in the Burg. No matter that your husband was kidnapped by aliens, visitors were offered coffee cake.

I followed after Aunt Mabel and waited while she cut the cake. She poured out coffee and sat opposite me at the kitchen table.

"I suppose your mother told you about your Uncle Fred," she said. "Fifty-two years of marriage, and poof, he's gone."
i0
"Did Uncle Fred have any medical problems?"

"The man was healthy as a horse."

"How about his stroke?"

"Well, yes, but everybody has a stroke once in awhile. And that stroke didn't slow him down any. Most of the time he remembered things no one else would remember. Like that business with the garbage. Who would remember a thing like that? Who would even care about it? Such a fuss over nothing."

I knew I was going to regret asking, but I felt compelled. "What about the garbage?"

Mabel helped herself to a piece of coffee cake. "Last month there was a new driver on the garbage truck, and he skipped over our house. It only happened once, but would my husband forget a thing like that? No. Fred never forgot anything. Especially if it had to do with money. So at the end of the month Fred wanted two dollars back on account of we pay quarterly, you see, and Fred had already paid for the missed day."

I nodded in understanding. This didn't surprise me at all. Some men played golf. Some men did crossword puzzles. Uncle Fred's hobby was being cheap.

"That was one of the things Fred was supposed to do on Friday," Mabel said. "The garbage company was making him crazy. He went there in the morning, but the y wouldn't give him his money without proof that he'd paid. Something about the computer messing up some of the accounts. So Fred was going back in the afternoon."

For two dollars. I did a mental head slap. If I'd been the clerk Fred had talked to at the garbage company I'd have given Fred two dollars out of my own pocket just to get rid of him. "What garbage company is this?"

"RGC. The police said Fred never got there. Fred had a whole list of errands he was going to do. He was going to the cleaners, the bank, the supermarket, and RGC."

"And you haven't heard from him."

"Not a word. Nobody's heard anything."

I had a feeling there wasn't going to be a happy ending to this story.

"Do you have any idea where Fred might be?"

"Everyone thinks he just wandered away, like a big dummy."

"What do you think?"

Mabel did an up-and-down thing with her shoulders. Like she didn't know what to think. Whenever I did that, it meant I didn't want to say what I was thinking.

"If I show you something, you have to promise not to tell anyone," Mabel said.

Oh boy.

She went to a kitchen drawer and took out a packet of pictures. "I found these in Fred's desk. I was looking for the checkbook this morning, and this is what I found."

I stared at the first picture for at least thirty seconds before I realized what I was seeing. The print was taken in shadow and looked underexposed. The perimeter was a black plastic trash bag, and in the center of the photo was a bloody hand severed at the wrist. I thumbed through the rest of the pack. More of the same. In some the bag was spread wider, revealing more body parts. What looked l ike a shinbone, part of a torso maybe, something that might have been the back of the head. Hard to tell if it was man or woman.

The shock of the pictures had me holding my breath, and I was getting a buzzing sensation in my head. I didn't want to ruin my bounty hunter image and keel over onto the floor, so I concentrated on quietly resuming breathing.

"You have to give these to the police," I said.

Mabel gave her head a shake. "I don't know what Fred was doing with these pictures. Why would a person have pictures like this?"

No date on the front or the back. "Do you know when they were taken?"

"No. This is the first I saw them."

"Do you mind if I look through Fred's desk?" "It's in the cellar," Mabel said. "Fred spent a lot of time down there."

It was a battered government-issue desk. Probably bought at a Fort Dix yard sale. It was positioned against the wall, opposite the washer and dryer. And it was set on a stained piece of wall to wall carpet that I assumed had been saved when new carpet was laid upstairs.

I pawed through the drawers, finding the usual junk. Pencils and pens. A drawer filled with instruction booklets and warranty cars for household appliances. Another drawer devoted to old issues of National Geographic. The magazines were dog-eared, and I could see Fred down here, escaping from Mabel, reading about the vanishing forests of Borneo.

A cancelled RGC check had been carefully placed under a paperweight. Fred had probably made a copy to take with him and had left the original here. ar
There are parts of the country where people trust banks to keep their checks and to simply forward computer-generated stateme nts each month. The Burg isn't one of those places. Residents of the Burg aren't that trusting of computers or banks. Residents of the Burg like paper. My relatives hoard cancelled checks like Scrooge McDuck hoards quarters.

I didn't see any more photos of dead bodies. And I couldn't find any notes or sales receipts that might be connected to the pictures.

"You don't suppose Fred killed this person, do you?" Mabel asked.

I didn't know what I supposed. What I knew was that I was very creeped out. "Fred didn't seem like the sort of person to do something like this," I told Mabel. "Would you like me to pass these on to the police for you?"

"If you think that's the right thing to do."

Without a shadow of a doubt.

I had phone calls to make, and my parentsÕ house was closer than my apartment and less expensive than using my cell phone, so I rumbled back to Roosevelt Street.

"How'd it go?" grandma asked, rushing into the foyer to meet me.

"It went okay."

"You gonna take the case?"

"It's not a case. It's a missing person. Sort of."

"You're gonna have a devil of a time finding him if it was aliens," Grandma said. I

dialed the central dispatch number for the Trenton Police Department and asked for Eddie Gazarra. Gazarra and I grew up together, and now he was married to my cousin Shirley the Whiner. He was a good friend, a good cop and a good source for police information.

"You need something," Gazarra said.

"Hello to you, too."

"Am I wrong?"

"No. I need some details on a recent investigation."

"I can't give you that kind of stuff."

"Of course you can," I said. " Anyway, this is about Uncle Fred."

"The missing Uncle Fred?"

"That's the one."

"What do you want to know?"

"Anything."

"Hold on."

He was back on the line a couple minutes later, and I could hear him leafing through papers. "It says here Fred was reported missing on Friday, which is technically too early for a missing person, but we always keep our eyes open anyway. Especially with old folks. Sometimes they're out there wandering around, looking for the road to Oz."

"You think that's what Fred's doing? Looking for Oz?"

"Hard to say. Fred's car was found in the Grand Union parking lot. The car was locked up. No sign of forced entry. No sign of struggle. No sign of theft. There was dry cleaning laid out on the backseat."

"Anything else in the car? Groceries?"

"Nope. No groceries."

"So he got to the dry cleaner but not the supermarket."

"I have a chronology of events here," Gazarra said. "Fred left his house at one oÕclock, right after he ate lunch. Next stop that we know of was the bank, First Trenton Trust. Their records show he withdrew two hundred dollars from the automatic teller in the lobby at two thirty-five. The cleaner, next to Grand Union in the same strip mall, said Fred picked his cleaning up around two forty-five. And that's all we have."

"There's an hour missing. It takes ten minutes to get from the Burg to Grand Union and First Trenton."

"Don't know," Gazarra said. "He was supposed to go to RGC Waste Haulers, but RGC says he never showed up."

"Thanks, Eddie."

"If you want to return the favor, I could use a baby-sitter Saturday night."

Gazarra coul d always use a baby-sitter. His kids were cute but death on baby-sitters.

"Gee Eddie, I'd love to help you out, but Saturday's a bad day. I promised somebody I'd do something on Saturday."

"Yeah, right."

"Listen Gazarra, last time I baby-sat for your kids they cut two inches off my hair."

"You shouldn't have fallen asleep. What were you doing sleeping on the job, anyway?"

"It was one in the morning!"

My next call was to Joe Morelli. Joe Morelli is a plainclothes cop who has skills not covered in the policeman's handbook. A couple months ago, I let him into my life and my bed. A couple weeks ago, I kicked him out. We'd seen each other several times since then on chance encounters and arranged dinner dates. The chance encounters were always warm. The dinner dates took the temperature up a notch and more often than not involved loud talking, which I called a discussion and Morelli called a fight.

None of these meetings had ended in the bedroom. When you grow up in the Burg there are several mantras little girls learn at an early age. One of them is that men don't buy goods they can get for free. Those words of wisdom hadn't stopped me from giving my goods away to Morelli, but they did stop me from continuing to give them away. That plus a false pregnancy scare. Although I have to admit, I had mixed feelings about not being pregnant. There was a smidgen of regret mixed with the relief. And probably it was the regret more than the relief that made me take a more serious look at my life and my relationship with Morelli. That and the realization that Morelli and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of things. Not that we'd entirely given up on the relation ship. It was more that we were in a holding pattern with each of us staking out territory ...not unlike the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I tried Morelli's home phone, office number, and car phone. No luck. I left messages everywhere and left my cell phone number on his pager.

"Well what did you find out?" Grandma wanted to know when I hung up.

"Not much. Fred left the house at one, and a little over an hour later, he was at the bank and the cleaner. He must have done something in that time, but I don't know what."

My mother and my grandmother looked at each other.

"What?" I asked. "What?"

"He was probably taking care of some personal business," my mother said. "You don't want to bother yourself with it."

"What's the big secret?"

Another exchange of looks between my mother and grandmother. "There's two kinds of secrets," Grandma said. "One kind is where nobody knows the secret. And the other kind is where everybody knows the secret, but pretends not to know the secret. This is the second kind of secret."

"So?"
i0
"It's about his honeys," Grandma said.

"His honeys?"

"Fred always has a honey on the side," Grandma said. "Should have been a politician."

"You mean Fred has affairs? He's in his seventies!"

"Midlife crises," Grandma said.

"Seventy isn't midlife," I said. "Forty is midlife."

Grandma slid her uppers around some. "Guess it depends how long you intend to live."

I turned to my mother. "You knew about this?"

My mother took a couple deli bags of cold cuts out of the refrigerator and emptied them on a plate. "The man's been a philanderer all his life. I don't know ho w Mabel's put up with it."

"Booze," Grandma said.

I made myself a liverwurst sandwich and took it to the table. "Do you think Uncle Fred might have run off with one of his girlfriends?"

"More likely one of their husbands picked Fred up and drove him to the landfill," Grandma said. "I can't see cheapskate Fred paying for the cleaning if he was going to run off with one of his floozies."

"You have any idea who he was seeing?"

"Hard to keep track," Grandma said. She looked over at my mother. "What do you think, Ellen? You think he's still seeing Loretta Walenowski?"

"I heard that was over," my mother said.

My cell phone rang in my shoulder bag.

"Hey Cupcake," Morelli said. "What's the disaster?"

"How do you know it's a disaster?"

"You left messages on three different phones plus my pager. It's either a disaster or you want me bad, and my luck hasn't been that good today."

"I need to talk to you."

"Now?"

"It'll only take a minute."

The skillet is a sandwich shop next to the hospital and could be better named the Grease Pit. Morelli got there ahead of me. He was standing, soda in hand, looking like the day was already too long.

He smiled when he saw me . . . and it was the nice smile that included his eyes. He draped an arm around my neck, pulled me to him, and kissed me. "Just so my day isn't a complete waste," he said.

"We have a family problem."

"Uncle Fred?"

"Boy, you know everything. You should be a cop."

"Wiseass," Morelli said. "What do you need?"

I handed him the packet of pictures. "Mabel found these in Fred's desk this morning."

He shuff led through them. "Christ. What is this shit?"

"Looks like body parts."

He tapped me on the head with the stack of pictures. "Comedian."

"You have any ideas here?"

"They need to go to Arnie Mott," Morelli said. "He's in charge of the investigation."

"Arnie Mott has the initiative of a squash."

"Yeah. But he's still in charge. I can pass them on for you."

"What does this mean?"

Joe shook his head, still studying the top photo. "I don't know, but this looks real."

I made an illegal U-turn on Hamilton and parked just short of Vinnie's office, docking the Buick behind a black Mercedes S600V, which I suspected belonged to Ranger. Ranger changed cars like other men changed socks. The only common denominatorwith Ranger's cars was that they were always expensive and they were always black.

Connie looked over at me when I swung through the front door. "Was Briggs really only three feet tall?"

"Three feet tall and uncooperative. I should have read the physical description on his application for appearance bond before I knocked on his door. Don't suppose anything else came in?"

"Sorry," Connie said. "Nothing."

"This is turning into a real bummer of a day. My uncle Fred is missing. He went out to run errands on Friday, and that was the last anyone's seen him. They found his car in the GrandUnion parking lot." No need to mention the butchered body.

"I had an uncle do that once," Lula said. "He walked all the way to Perth Amboy before someone found him. It was one of them senior moments."

The door to the inner office was closed, and Ranger was nowhere to be seen, so I guessed he was talking to Vi nnie. I cut my eyes in that direction. "Ranger in there?"

"Yeah," Connie said. "He did some work for Vinnie."

"Work?"

"Don't ask," Connie said.

"Not bounty hunter stuff."

"Not nearly."

I left the office and waited outside. Ranger appeared five minutes later. Ranger's Cuban-American. His features are Anglo, his eyes are Latino, his skin is the color of a mocha latte, and his body is as good as a body can get. He had his black air pulled back into a ponytail. He was wearing a black T-shirt that fit him like a tattoo and black SWAT pants tucked into black high-top boots.

"Yo," I said.

Ranger looked at me over the top of his shades. "Yo yourself."

I gazed longingly at his car. "Nice Mercedes."

"Transportation," Ranger said. "Nothing fancy."

Compared to what? The Batmobile? "Connie said you were talking to Vinnie."

"Transacting business, babe. I don't talk to Vinnie."

"That's sort of what I'd like to discuss with you . . . business. You know how you've kind of been my mentor with this bounty hunter stuff?"

"Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins Do Trenton."

"Yeah. Well, the truth is, the bounty huntering isn't going all that good."

"No one's jumping bail."

"That too."

Ranger leaned against his car and crossed his arms over his chest. "And?"

"And I've been thinking maybe I should diversify."

"And?"

0"And I thought you might help me."

"You talking about building a portfolio? Investing money?"

"No. I'm talking about making money."

Ranger tipped his head back and laughed softly. "Babe, you don't want to do that kind of diversifying."

I narrowed my eyes.

"Okay," he said. "What did you have in mind?"

"Something legal."

"There's all kinds of legal."

"I want something entirely legal."

Ranger leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Let me explain my work ethic to you. I don't do things I feel are morally wrong. But sometimes my moral code strays from the norm. Sometimes my moral code is inconsistent with the law. Much of what I do is in that gray area just beyond entirely legal."

"All right then, how about steering me toward something mostly legal and definitely morally right."

"You sure about this?"

"Yes." No. Not at all.

Ranger's face was expressionless. "I'll think about it."

He slipped into his car, the engine caught, and Ranger rolled away.

I had a missing uncle who quite possibly had butchered a woman and stuffed her parts into a garbage bag, but I also was a month overdue on my rent. Somehow I was going to have to manage both problems.

Copyright © 1999 by Evanovich, Inc.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Chapter One

When I was a little girl I used to dress Barbie up without underpants. On the outside, she'd look like the perfect lady. Tasteful plastic heels, tailored suit. But underneath, she was naked. I'm a bail enforcement agent now --also known as a fugitive apprehension agent, also known as a bounty hunter. I bring 'em back dead or alive. At least I try. And being a bail enforcement agent is sort of like being bare-bottom Barbie. It's about having a secret. And it's about wearing a lot of bravado on the outside when you're really operating without underpants. Okay, maybe it's not like that for all enforcement agents, but I frequently feel like my privates are alfresco. Figuratively speaking, of course.

At the moment I wasn't feeling nearly so vulnerable. What I was feeling at the moment was desperate. My rent was due, and Trenton had run out of scofflaws. I had my hands palms down on Connie Rosolli's desk, my feet planted wide, and hard as I tried, I couldn't keep my voice from sounding like it was coming out of Minnie Mouse. "What do you mean there are no FTAs? There are always FTAs."

"Sorry," Connie said. "We've got lots of bonds posted, but nobody's jumping. Must have something to do with the moon."

FTA is short for failure to appear for a court date. Going FTA is a definite no-no in the criminal justice system, but that doesn't usually stop people from doing it.

Connie slid a manila folder over to me. "This is the only FTA I've got, and it's not worth much."

Connie is the office manager for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. She's a couple years older than me, which puts her in her early thirties. She wears her hair teased high. She takes grief from no on e. And if breasts were money Connie'd be Bill Gates.

"Vinnie's overjoyed," Connie said. "He's making money by the fistful. No bounty hunters to pay. No forfeited bonds. Last time I saw Vinnie in a mood like this was when Madame Zaretsky was arrested for pandering and sodomy and put her trained dog up as collateral for her bond."

I cringed at the mental image this produced because not only is Vincent Plum my employer, he's also my cousin. I blackmailed him into taking me on as an apprehension agent at a low moment in my life and have come to sort of like the job ...most of the time. That doesn't mean I have any illusions about Vinnie. For the most part, Vinnie is an okay bondsman. But privately, Vinnie is a boil on the backside of my family tree.

As a bail bondsman Vinnie gives the court a cash bond as a securement that the accused will return for trial. If the accused takes a hike, Vinnie forfeits his money. Since this isn't an appealing prospect to Vinnie, he sends me out to find the accused and drag him back into the system. My fee is ten percent of the bond, and I only collect it if I'm successful.

I flipped the folder open and read the bond agreement. "Randy Briggs. Arrested for carrying concealed. Failed to appear at his court hearing." The bond amount was seven hundred dollars. That meant I'd get seventy. Not a lot of money for risking my life by going after someone who was known to carry.

"I don't know," I said to Connie, "this guy carries a knife."

Connie looked at her copy of Briggs' arrest sheet. "It says here it was a small knife, and it wasn't sharp."

"How small?"

"Eight inches."

"That isn't small!"

"Nobody else wil l take this," Connie said. "Ranger doesn't take anything under ten grand." Ranger is my mentor and a world-class tracker. Ranger also never seems to be in dire need of rent money. Ranger has other sources of income.

I looked at the photo attached to Briggs' file. Briggs didn't look so bad. In his forties, narrow-faced and balding, Caucasian. Job description was listed as self-employed computer programmer.

I gave a sigh of resignation and stuffed the folder into my shoulder bag. "I'll go talk to him."

"Probably he just forgot," Connie said. "Probably this is a piece of cake."

I gave her my yeah, right look and left. It was Monday morning and traffic was humming past Vinnie's store front office. The October sky was as blue as sky gets in New Jersey, and the air felt crisp and lacking hydrocarbons. It was nice for a change, but it kind of took all the sport out of breathing.

A new red Firebird slid to curbside behind my '53 Buick. Lula got out of the car and stood hands on hips, shaking her head. "Girl, you still driving that pimp mobile?"

Lula did filing for Vinnie and knew all about pimp mobiles first hand since in a former life she'd been a 'ho. She's what is gently referred to as a big woman, weighing in at a little over 200 pounds, standing five-foot-five, looking like most of her weight's muscle. This week her hair was dyed orange and came off very autumn with her dark brown skin.

"This is a classic car," I told Lula. Like we both knew I really gave a fig about classic cars. I was driving The Beast because my Honda had caught fire and burned to a cinder, and I didn't have any money to replace it. So here I was, borrowing my Uncle Sandor's gas guzzl ing behemoth ...again.

"Problem is, you aren't living up to your earning potential," Lula said. "We only got chicken shit cases these days. What you need is to have a serial killer or a homicidal rapist jump bail. Those boys are worth something."

"Yeah, I'd sure like to get a case like that." Big fib. If Vinnie ever gave me a homicidal rapist to chase down I'd quit and get a job selling shoes.

Lula marched into the office, and I slid behind the wheel and reread the Briggs file. Randy Briggs had given the same address for home and work. Cloverleaf Apartments on Grand Avenue. It wasn't far from the office. Maybe a mile. I pulled into traffic, made an illegal U-turn at the intersection, and followed Hamilton to Grand.

The Cloverleaf Apartments building was two blocks down Grand. It was red brick faced and strictly utilitarian. Three stories. A front and a back entrance. Small lot to the rear. No ornamentation. Aluminum-framed windows that were popular in the fifties and looked cheesy now.

I parked in the lot and walked into the small lobby. There was an elevator to one side and stairs to the other. The elevator looked claustrophobic and unreliable, so I took the stairs to the second floor. Briggs was 2B. I stood outside his door for a moment, listening. Nothing drifted out. No television. No talking. I pressed the doorbell and stood to the side, so I wasn't visible through the security peep hole.

Randy Briggs opened his door and stuck his head out. "Yeah?"

He looked exactly like his photo, with sandy blond hair that was neatly combed, cut short. He was unbearded, unblemished. Dressed in clean khakis and a button-down shirt. Just like I'd expected from hi s file ...except he was only three feet tall. Randy Briggs was vertically challenged.

"Oh shit," I said, looking down at him.

"What's the matter?" he said. "You never see a short person before?"

"Only on television."

"Guess this is your lucky day."

I handed him my business card. "I represent Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. You've missed your court date, and we'd appreciate it if you'd reschedule."

"No," Briggs said.

"Excuse me?"

"No. I'm not going to reschedule. No. I'm not going to court. It was a bogus arrest."

"The way our system works is that you're supposed to tell that to the judge."

"Fine. Go get the judge."

"The judge doesn't do house calls."

"Listen, I got a lot of work to do," Briggs said, closing his door. "I gotta go."

"Hold it!" I said. "You can't just ignore an order to appear in court."

"Watch me."

"You don't understand. I'm appointed by the court and Vincent Plum to bring you in."

"Oh yeah? How do you expect to do that? You going to shoot me? You can't shoot an unarmed man." He stuck his hands out. "You gonna cuff me? You think you can drag me out of my apartment and down the hall without looking like an idiot? Big bad bounty hunter picking on a little person. And that's what we're called, Toots. Not midget, not dwarf, not a freaking Munchkin. Little person. Get it?"

My pager went off at my waist. I looked down to check the read-out and slam. Briggs closed and locked his door.

"Loser," he called from inside.

Well, that didn't go as smoothly as I'd hoped. I had a choice now. I could break down his door and beat the bejeezus out of him, or I could answer my moth er's page. Neither was especially appealing, but I decided on my mother.

My parents live in a residential pocket of Trenton nicknamed the Burg. No one ever really leaves the Burg. You can relocate in Antarctica, but if you were born and raised in the Burg you're a Burger for life. Houses are small and obsessively neat. Televisions are large and loud. Lots are narrow. Families are extended. There are no pooper-scooper laws in the Burg. If your dog does his business on someone else's lawn, the next morning the doodoo will be on your front porch. Life is simple in the Burg.

I put the Buick into gear, rolled out of the apartment building lot, headed for Hamilton, and followed Hamilton to St. Francis Hospital. My parents live a couple blocks behind St. Francis on Roosevelt Street. Their house is a duplex built at a time when families needed only one bathroom and dishes were washed by hand.

My mother was at the door when I pulled to the curb. My grandmother Mazur stood elbow to elbow with my mother. They were short, slim women with facial features that suggested Mongol ancestors ...probably in the form of crazed marauders.

"Thank goodness you're here," my mother said, eyeing me as I got out of the car and walked toward her. "What are those shoes? They look like work boots."

"Betty Szajak and Emma Getz and me went to that male dancer place last week," Grandma said, "and they had some men parading around, looking like construction workers, wearing boots just like those. Then next thing you knew they ripped their clothes off and all they had left was those boots and these little silky black baggie things that their ding-dongs jiggled around in."

My mother pressed her lips together and made the sign of the cross. "You didn't tell me about this," she said to my grandmother.

"Guess it slipped my mind. Betty and Emma and me were going to Bingo at the church, but it turned out there wasn't any Bingo on account of the Knights of Columbus was holding some to-do there. So we decided to check out the men at that new club downtown." Grandma gave me an elbow. "I put a fiver right in one of those baggies!"

"Jesus H. Christ," my father said, rattling his paper in the living room.

Grandma Mazur came to live with my parents several years ago when my Grandpa Mazur went to the big poker game in the sky. My mother accepts this as a daughter's obligation. My father has taken to reading Guns & Ammo.

"So what's up?" I asked. "Why did you page me?"

"We need a detective," Grandma said.

My mother rolled her eyes and ushered me in to the kitchen. "Have a cookie," she said, setting the cookie jar on the small Formica-topped kitchen table. "Can I get you a glass of milk? Some lunch?"

I lifted the lid on the cookie jar and looked inside. Chocolate chip. My favorite.

"Tell her," Grandma said to my mother, giving her a poke in the side. "Wait until you hear this," she said to me. "This is a good one."

I raised my eyebrows at my mother.

"We have a family problem," my mother said. "Your Uncle Fred is missing. He went out to the store and hasn't come home yet."

"When did he go out?"

"Friday."

I paused with a cookie halfway to my mouth. "It's Monday!"

"Isn't this a pip?" Grandma said. "I bet he was beamed up by aliens."

Uncle Fred is married to my Grandma Mazur's first cousin Mabel. If I had to guess his age I'd have to say somewhere between seventy and infinity. Once people start to stoop and wrinkle they all look alike to me. Uncle Fred was someone I saw at weddings and funerals and once in awhile at Giovichinni's Meat Market, ordering a quarter pound of olive loaf. Eddie Such, the butcher, would have the olive loaf on the scale and Uncle Fred would say, "You've got the olive loaf on a piece of waxed paper. How much does that piece of waxed paper weigh? You're not gonna charge me for that waxed paper, are you? I want some money off for the waxed paper.

I shoved the cookie into my mouth. "Have you filed a missing persons report with the police?"

"Mabel did that first thing," my mother said.

"And?"

"And they haven't found him."

I went to the refrigerator and poured out a glass of milk for myself. "What about the car? Did they find the car?"

"The car was in the Grand Union parking lot. It was all locked up nice and neat."

"He was never right after that stroke he had in ninety-five," Grandma said. "I don't think his elevator went all the way to the top anymore, if you know what I mean. He could have just wandered off like one of those Alzheimer's people. Anybody think to check the cereal aisle in the supermarket? Maybe he's just standing there 'cause he can't make up his mind."

My father mumbled something from the living room about my grandmother's elevator, and my mother slid my father a dirty look through the kitchen wall.

I thought it was too weird. Uncle Fred was missing. This sort of thing just didn't happen in our family. "Did anybody go out to look for him?"

"Ronald and Walter. They covered all the neighbo rhoods around the Grand Union, but nobody's seen him."

Ronald and Walter were Fred's sons. And probably they'd enlisted their kids to help, too.

"We figure you're just the person to take a crack at this," grandma said, "on account of that's what you do ...you find people."

"I find criminals."

"Your Aunt Mabel would be grateful if you'd look for Fred," my mother said. "Maybe you could just go over and talk to her and see what you think."

"She needs a detective," I said. "I'm not a detective."

"Mabel asked for you. She said she didn't want this going out of the family."

My internal radar dish started to hum. "Is there something you're not telling me?"

"What's to tell," my mother said. "A man wandered off from his car."

I drank my milk and rinsed the glass. "Okay, I'll go talk to Aunt Mabel. But I'm not promising anything."

Uncle Fred and Aunt Mabel live on Baker Street, on the fringe of the Burg, three blocks over from my parents. Their ten-year-old Pontiac station wagon was parked at the curb and just about spanned the length of their row house. They've lived in the row house for as long as I can remember, raising two children, entertaining five grandchildren and annoying the hell out of each other for over fifty years.

Aunt Mabel answered my knock on her door. She was a rounder, softer version of Grandma Mazur. Her white hair was perfectly permed. She was dressed in yellow polyester slacks and a matching floral blouse. Her earrings were large clip-ons, her lipstick was a bright red, and her eyebrows were brown crayon.

"Well, isn't this nice," Aunt Mabel said. "Come into the kitchen. I got a coffee cake from Giovic hinni today. It's the good kind, with the almonds."

Certain proprieties were observed in the Burg. No matter that your husband was kidnapped by aliens, visitors were offered coffee cake.

I followed after Aunt Mabel and waited while she cut the cake. She poured out coffee and sat opposite me at the kitchen table.

"I suppose your mother told you about your Uncle Fred," she said. "Fifty-two years of marriage, and poof, he's gone."

"Did Uncle Fred have any medical problems?"

"The man was healthy as a horse."

"How about his stroke?"

"Well, yes, but everybody has a stroke once in awhile. And that stroke didn't slow him down any. Most of the time he remembered things no one else would remember. Like that business with the garbage. Who would remember a thing like that? Who would even care about it? Such a fuss over nothing."

I knew I was going to regret asking, but I felt compelled. "What about the garbage?"

Mabel helped herself to a piece of coffee cake. "Last month there was a new driver on the garbage truck, and he skipped over our house. It only happened once, but would my husband forget a thing like that? No. Fred never forgot anything. Especially if it had to do with money. So at the end of the month Fred wanted two dollars back on account of we pay quarterly, you see, and Fred had already paid for the missed day."

I nodded in understanding. This didn't surprise me at all. Some men played golf. Some men did crossword puzzles. Uncle Fred's hobby was being cheap.

"That was one of the things Fred was supposed to do on Friday," Mabel said. "The garbage company was making him crazy. He went there in the morning, but the y wouldn't give him his money without proof that he'd paid. Something about the computer messing up some of the accounts. So Fred was going back in the afternoon."

For two dollars. I did a mental head slap. If I'd been the clerk Fred had talked to at the garbage company I'd have given Fred two dollars out of my own pocket just to get rid of him. "What garbage company is this?"

"RGC. The police said Fred never got there. Fred had a whole list of errands he was going to do. He was going to the cleaners, the bank, the supermarket, and RGC."

"And you haven't heard from him."

"Not a word. Nobody's heard anything."

I had a feeling there wasn't going to be a happy ending to this story.

"Do you have any idea where Fred might be?"

"Everyone thinks he just wandered away, like a big dummy."

"What do you think?"

Mabel did an up-and-down thing with her shoulders. Like she didn't know what to think. Whenever I did that, it meant I didn't want to say what I was thinking.

"If I show you something, you have to promise not to tell anyone," Mabel said.

Oh boy.

She went to a kitchen drawer and took out a packet of pictures. "I found these in Fred's desk. I was looking for the checkbook this morning, and this is what I found."

I stared at the first picture for at least thirty seconds before I realized what I was seeing. The print was taken in shadow and looked underexposed. The perimeter was a black plastic trash bag, and in the center of the photo was a bloody hand severed at the wrist. I thumbed through the rest of the pack. More of the same. In some the bag was spread wider, revealing more body parts. What looked l ike a shinbone, part of a torso maybe, something that might have been the back of the head. Hard to tell if it was man or woman.

The shock of the pictures had me holding my breath, and I was getting a buzzing sensation in my head. I didn't want to ruin my bounty hunter image and keel over onto the floor, so I concentrated on quietly resuming breathing.

"You have to give these to the police," I said.

Mabel gave her head a shake. "I don't know what Fred was doing with these pictures. Why would a person have pictures like this?"

No date on the front or the back. "Do you know when they were taken?"

"No. This is the first I saw them."

"Do you mind if I look through Fred's desk?" "It's in the cellar," Mabel said. "Fred spent a lot of time down there."

It was a battered government-issue desk. Probably bought at a Fort Dix yard sale. It was positioned against the wall, opposite the washer and dryer. And it was set on a stained piece of wall to wall carpet that I assumed had been saved when new carpet was laid upstairs.

I pawed through the drawers, finding the usual junk. Pencils and pens. A drawer filled with instruction booklets and warranty cars for household appliances. Another drawer devoted to old issues of National Geographic. The magazines were dog-eared, and I could see Fred down here, escaping from Mabel, reading about the vanishing forests of Borneo.

A cancelled RGC check had been carefully placed under a paperweight. Fred had probably made a copy to take with him and had left the original here.

There are parts of the country where people trust banks to keep their checks and to simply forward computer-generated stateme nts each month. The Burg isn't one of those places. Residents of the Burg aren't that trusting of computers or banks. Residents of the Burg like paper. My relatives hoard cancelled checks like Scrooge McDuck hoards quarters.

I didn't see any more photos of dead bodies. And I couldn't find any notes or sales receipts that might be connected to the pictures.

"You don't suppose Fred killed this person, do you?" Mabel asked.

I didn't know what I supposed. What I knew was that I was very creeped out. "Fred didn't seem like the sort of person to do something like this," I told Mabel. "Would you like me to pass these on to the police for you?"

"If you think that's the right thing to do."

Without a shadow of a doubt.

I had phone calls to make, and my parentsÕ house was closer than my apartment and less expensive than using my cell phone, so I rumbled back to Roosevelt Street.

"How'd it go?" grandma asked, rushing into the foyer to meet me.

"It went okay."

"You gonna take the case?"

"It's not a case. It's a missing person. Sort of."

"You're gonna have a devil of a time finding him if it was aliens," Grandma said. I

dialed the central dispatch number for the Trenton Police Department and asked for Eddie Gazarra. Gazarra and I grew up together, and now he was married to my cousin Shirley the Whiner. He was a good friend, a good cop and a good source for police information.

"You need something," Gazarra said.

"Hello to you, too."

"Am I wrong?"

"No. I need some details on a recent investigation."

"I can't give you that kind of stuff."

"Of course you can," I said. " Anyway, this is about Uncle Fred."

"The missing Uncle Fred?"

"That's the one."

"What do you want to know?"

"Anything."

"Hold on."

He was back on the line a couple minutes later, and I could hear him leafing through papers. "It says here Fred was reported missing on Friday, which is technically too early for a missing person, but we always keep our eyes open anyway. Especially with old folks. Sometimes they're out there wandering around, looking for the road to Oz."

"You think that's what Fred's doing? Looking for Oz?"

"Hard to say. Fred's car was found in the Grand Union parking lot. The car was locked up. No sign of forced entry. No sign of struggle. No sign of theft. There was dry cleaning laid out on the backseat."

"Anything else in the car? Groceries?"

"Nope. No groceries."

"So he got to the dry cleaner but not the supermarket."

"I have a chronology of events here," Gazarra said. "Fred left his house at one oÕclock, right after he ate lunch. Next stop that we know of was the bank, First Trenton Trust. Their records show he withdrew two hundred dollars from the automatic teller in the lobby at two thirty-five. The cleaner, next to Grand Union in the same strip mall, said Fred picked his cleaning up around two forty-five. And that's all we have."

"There's an hour missing. It takes ten minutes to get from the Burg to Grand Union and First Trenton."

"Don't know," Gazarra said. "He was supposed to go to RGC Waste Haulers, but RGC says he never showed up."

"Thanks, Eddie."

"If you want to return the favor, I could use a baby-sitter Saturday night."

Gazarra coul d always use a baby-sitter. His kids were cute but death on baby-sitters.

"Gee Eddie, I'd love to help you out, but Saturday's a bad day. I promised somebody I'd do something on Saturday."

"Yeah, right."

"Listen Gazarra, last time I baby-sat for your kids they cut two inches off my hair."

"You shouldn't have fallen asleep. What were you doing sleeping on the job, anyway?"

"It was one in the morning!"

My next call was to Joe Morelli. Joe Morelli is a plainclothes cop who has skills not covered in the policeman's handbook. A couple months ago, I let him into my life and my bed. A couple weeks ago, I kicked him out. We'd seen each other several times since then on chance encounters and arranged dinner dates. The chance encounters were always warm. The dinner dates took the temperature up a notch and more often than not involved loud talking, which I called a discussion and Morelli called a fight.

None of these meetings had ended in the bedroom. When you grow up in the Burg there are several mantras little girls learn at an early age. One of them is that men don't buy goods they can get for free. Those words of wisdom hadn't stopped me from giving my goods away to Morelli, but they did stop me from continuing to give them away. That plus a false pregnancy scare. Although I have to admit, I had mixed feelings about not being pregnant. There was a smidgen of regret mixed with the relief. And probably it was the regret more than the relief that made me take a more serious look at my life and my relationship with Morelli. That and the realization that Morelli and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of things. Not that we'd entirely given up on the relation ship. It was more that we were in a holding pattern with each of us staking out territory ...not unlike the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I tried Morelli's home phone, office number, and car phone. No luck. I left messages everywhere and left my cell phone number on his pager.

"Well what did you find out?" Grandma wanted to know when I hung up.

"Not much. Fred left the house at one, and a little over an hour later, he was at the bank and the cleaner. He must have done something in that time, but I don't know what."

My mother and my grandmother looked at each other.

"What?" I asked. "What?"

"He was probably taking care of some personal business," my mother said. "You don't want to bother yourself with it."

"What's the big secret?"

Another exchange of looks between my mother and grandmother. "There's two kinds of secrets," Grandma said. "One kind is where nobody knows the secret. And the other kind is where everybody knows the secret, but pretends not to know the secret. This is the second kind of secret."

"So?"

"It's about his honeys," Grandma said.

"His honeys?"

"Fred always has a honey on the side," Grandma said. "Should have been a politician."

"You mean Fred has affairs? He's in his seventies!"

"Midlife crises," Grandma said.

"Seventy isn't midlife," I said. "Forty is midlife."

Grandma slid her uppers around some. "Guess it depends how long you intend to live."

I turned to my mother. "You knew about this?"

My mother took a couple deli bags of cold cuts out of the refrigerator and emptied them on a plate. "The man's been a philanderer all his life. I don't know ho w Mabel's put up with it."

"Booze," Grandma said.

I made myself a liverwurst sandwich and took it to the table. "Do you think Uncle Fred might have run off with one of his girlfriends?"

"More likely one of their husbands picked Fred up and drove him to the landfill," Grandma said. "I can't see cheapskate Fred paying for the cleaning if he was going to run off with one of his floozies."

"You have any idea who he was seeing?"

"Hard to keep track," Grandma said. She looked over at my mother. "What do you think, Ellen? You think he's still seeing Loretta Walenowski?"

"I heard that was over," my mother said.

My cell phone rang in my shoulder bag.

"Hey Cupcake," Morelli said. "What's the disaster?"

"How do you know it's a disaster?"

"You left messages on three different phones plus my pager. It's either a disaster or you want me bad, and my luck hasn't been that good today."

"I need to talk to you."

"Now?"

"It'll only take a minute."

The skillet is a sandwich shop next to the hospital and could be better named the Grease Pit. Morelli got there ahead of me. He was standing, soda in hand, looking like the day was already too long.

He smiled when he saw me . . . and it was the nice smile that included his eyes. He draped an arm around my neck, pulled me to him, and kissed me. "Just so my day isn't a complete waste," he said.

"We have a family problem."

"Uncle Fred?"

"Boy, you know everything. You should be a cop."

"Wiseass," Morelli said. "What do you need?"

I handed him the packet of pictures. "Mabel found these in Fred's desk this morning."

He shuff led through them. "Christ. What is this shit?"

"Looks like body parts."

He tapped me on the head with the stack of pictures. "Comedian."

"You have any ideas here?"

"They need to go to Arnie Mott," Morelli said. "He's in charge of the investigation."

"Arnie Mott has the initiative of a squash."

"Yeah. But he's still in charge. I can pass them on for you."

"What does this mean?"

Joe shook his head, still studying the top photo. "I don't know, but this looks real."

 

I made an illegal U-turn on Hamilton and parked just short of Vinnie's office, docking the Buick behind a black Mercedes S600V, which I suspected belonged to Ranger. Ranger changed cars like other men changed socks. The only common denominatorwith Ranger's cars was that they were always expensive and they were always black.

Connie looked over at me when I swung through the front door. "Was Briggs really only three feet tall?"

"Three feet tall and uncooperative. I should have read the physical description on his application for appearance bond before I knocked on his door. Don't suppose anything else came in?"

"Sorry," Connie said. "Nothing."

"This is turning into a real bummer of a day. My uncle Fred is missing. He went out to run errands on Friday, and that was the last anyone's seen him. They found his car in the GrandUnion parking lot." No need to mention the butchered body.

"I had an uncle do that once," Lula said. "He walked all the way to Perth Amboy before someone found him. It was one of them senior moments."

The door to the inner office was closed, and Ranger was nowhere to be seen, so I guessed he was talking to Vi nnie. I cut my eyes in that direction. "Ranger in there?"

"Yeah," Connie said. "He did some work for Vinnie."

"Work?"

"Don't ask," Connie said.

"Not bounty hunter stuff."

"Not nearly."

I left the office and waited outside. Ranger appeared five minutes later. Ranger's Cuban-American. His features are Anglo, his eyes are Latino, his skin is the color of a mocha latte, and his body is as good as a body can get. He had his black air pulled back into a ponytail. He was wearing a black T-shirt that fit him like a tattoo and black SWAT pants tucked into black high-top boots.

"Yo," I said.

Ranger looked at me over the top of his shades. "Yo yourself."

I gazed longingly at his car. "Nice Mercedes."

"Transportation," Ranger said. "Nothing fancy."

Compared to what? The Batmobile? "Connie said you were talking to Vinnie."

"Transacting business, babe. I don't talk to Vinnie."

"That's sort of what I'd like to discuss with you . . . business. You know how you've kind of been my mentor with this bounty hunter stuff?"

"Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins Do Trenton."

"Yeah. Well, the truth is, the bounty huntering isn't going all that good."

"No one's jumping bail."

"That too."

Ranger leaned against his car and crossed his arms over his chest. "And?"

"And I've been thinking maybe I should diversify."

"And?"

"And I thought you might help me."

"You talking about building a portfolio? Investing money?"

"No. I'm talking about making money."

Ranger tipped his head back and laughed softly. "Babe, you don't want to do that kind of diversifying."

I narrowed my eyes.

"Okay," he said. "What did you have in mind?"

"Something legal."

"There's all kinds of legal."

"I want something entirely legal."

Ranger leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Let me explain my work ethic to you. I don't do things I feel are morally wrong. But sometimes my moral code strays from the norm. Sometimes my moral code is inconsistent with the law. Much of what I do is in that gray area just beyond entirely legal."

"All right then, how about steering me toward something mostly legal and definitely morally right."

"You sure about this?"

"Yes." No. Not at all.

Ranger's face was expressionless. "I'll think about it."

He slipped into his car, the engine caught, and Ranger rolled away.

I had a missing uncle who quite possibly had butchered a woman and stuffed her parts into a garbage bag, but I also was a month overdue on my rent. Somehow I was going to have to manage both problems.

Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

On Monday, July 26th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Janet Evanovich to discuss HIGH FIVE.

Moderator: Welcome to the Auditorium, Janet Evanovich! We're so thrilled to have you back with us once again to chat, and to congratulate you on your latest, HIGH FIVE. How are you this evening?

Janet Evanovich: I'm great. Happy to be on -- sorry I was late. I had a goof up getting onboard. Howdy everyone.


Andy from Hoboken, NJ: Why do you think Jersey girls get such a bad rep? Do you think Stephanie Plum is working to give them back a good name?

Janet Evanovich: I always thought Jersey girls had a good rep. Of course that's probably because I'm a Jersey girl. I think Steph is definitely getting the word out there.


Irene from Houston, TX: I know that the title for your new book came from your readers' submissions to your web site -- how did you choose it? Were there any good runners-up you liked but couldn't use?

Janet Evanovich: For the past couple years we've been having a Name the Book contest. Readers can submit entries (as many as they like) on my web site (www.evanovich.com) or by snail mail. The contest to name book six will be over September 1st. Last year there were 1,700 titles suggested, and approximately 4,000 played.


Susan from Greensboro, NC: In the Stephanie Plum series, do you have any characters who have taken on a life of their own due to reader popularity? Or are all of your characters, plot lines, et cetera planned out way in advance?

Janet Evanovich: I love to hear from my readers and perhaps am sometimes swayed by their opinions -- but for the most part I go with my own instincts. I write one book at a time and don't usually think ahead more than that.


Kathy from Evansville: How do we submit a title for the new book?

Janet Evanovich: Go to my web site! www.evanovich.com


Thumper from Indianapolis, IN: Hello. I love your Stephanie Plum novels. Is it getting harder to keep coming up with fresh ideas and storylines?

Janet Evanovich: The ideas are easy. I have tons of ideas and storylines. It's writing the whole darn book that's hard!


Lura from Tampa, FL: So will Rex ever get a girlfriend? Maybe Morelli could get a girl hamster? Seems a pity for Rex to spend his entire life in the soup can...more or less!

Janet Evanovich: Listen, I've had hamsters and I know what happens when you put two of them together!


Stephanie Jackson from NYC: I loved HIGH FIVE! When will book six be finished? This series is great.

Janet Evanovich: I'm about half done with six. It should be out in the stores next year at about this time.


Kelly Goldberg from Saint Petersburg, FL: Another question: Is there some way that we will see Stephanie's mother break out of her role? Nursing school, maybe?

Janet Evanovich: Anything's possible. Although I don't have plans for Mom to break out just yet.


Blinkie from Raleigh, NC: I've noticed that other authors' fans ask them highly intelligent questions like "Mr. X, please expound upon your protagonist's motivations before/during/after the reconstructive surgery that was necessitated by the freakish Zamboni accident," and your fans generally end up asking "Yo, Janet, how's it hangin'?" Does it bother you that we tend to think of you as more of a buddy (at least those who frequent your web site, anyway) than as some famous, inaccessible personality?

Janet Evanovich: I wouldn't have it any other way -- and I've got your number, Blink. Nice to see you.


Donna Morelli from Pittsburgh: Hi, Janet. Love your books! I read a short story featuring Steph in an anthology recently. Will there be any more short-story Stephs? If so, how soon? Need something to tide me over to book six!

Janet Evanovich: I'd love to do another short story but am behind schedule right now. The [one for the] Mary Higgins Clark anthology was the only short story I've ever written.


Leslie Armstrong from Little Rock, AR: Hi, Janet! I just want to say I love your books -- and I wasn't a reader until I read one of your books, and now I am hooked! And the question I have is, will Morelli and Stephanie ever get married? Please keep on writing these books...they are the best!

Janet Evanovich: Ever is a long time -- so maybe someday Steph and Joe will tie the knot, but I don't see it happening in the near future. That's not to say they couldn't live in sin for a while!


Freckles from Maryland: Mine is more along the lines of a comment than a question. Thanks for such an enjoyable read. Grandma Mazur and Lula are priceless. I haven't laughed this hard in a long time. Waiting impatiently for SIX. By the way, tell Alex kudos on the web site.

Janet Evanovich: Thanks. Alex will be pleased.


Marybeth from Wisconsin: Hello, Janet! Are you going to give Stephanie's dad a big juicy role in book six? He really deserves a break! I just love him! No more stun guns for him, please!

Janet Evanovich: Marybeth, great to see you here! The Cheetos were eaten in the car, and the flower was beautiful. Thanks again. Hope the sod is doing well. Steph's dad will have a larger role sometime soon. Not sure yet if it'll be in book six.


Fred from here: Do you like plums?

Janet Evanovich: Plums pay the mortgage.


Moderator: What is the worst job you've ever had, and why was it so bad?

Janet Evanovich: I worked at a chemical plant one summer while I was in college and had to deliver the mail by running across a gridded catwalk that hung over huge vats of formaldehyde. That ran close competition with the half a day I spent selling used cars.


Jeannie from Marshfield, MA: Hi, Janet. Hope you're having a great time on the tour. I was wondering if you start each book knowing where the story is going. Do you use outlines or formulas? Or is it just an embarkment on the La-La Land train? Also, would you ever consider teaching a mystery-writing course?

Janet Evanovich: Before beginning the actual writing of a book, I make a timeline for myself. The timeline is a sequence of events, and gives me a beginning, middle, and end, and provides me with a sort of road map for the book.


Dawn from Geneva: What are some of your favorite books and authors?

Janet Evanovich: My favorite books and authors change daily. Lately I've been on a Regency Romance thing -- enjoying Amanda Quick and Mary Jo Putney. Also, I like Nora Roberts, Robert Parker, Bob Crais, Michael Connelly.... And I like Uncle Scrooge comics.


Pamela from New York City: I love Pop-Tarts; have you ever eaten them yourself?

Janet Evanovich: I had to skip to this question! Yes, of course. Doesn't everyone eat Pop Tarts?


Donna Bayer from Sayreville, NJ: Hi, Janet! Do you have any idea how many books will be in the series?

Janet Evanovich: Hey, Sayreville! My husband's from Sayreville. I imagine I'll be writing this series from my grave. No plans to stop anytime soon.


Doris from Murfreesboro, TN: Hi, Janet. I really loved the ending to book five. But I noticed that a few people were upset. Did you expect this reaction? Did it bother you? It did me.

Janet Evanovich: Takes a lot to bother me! I thought the ending was fun. I like the idea that the reader can participate. In fact, all of the endings have been sort of up in the air. This was the first time people really noticed.


Jane from hhgraphics: I am a new reader and just starting book three. Love all the characters; being from back east, they seem very much real. I have heard you have a movie deal with TriStar. How much input will you have, and if you could pick the cast, whom would your ideal players be?

Janet Evanovich: I sold all rights to TriStar and expect they'll do a great job. I probably won't have much input when it comes to casting, which is fine since I haven't a clue whom I'd want to play Stephanie!


Jani from Rhode Island: Did you base Ranger on a real person? He sure fits the mold of 'special forces' or Navy Seal types!

Janet Evanovich: Ranger is strictly fictional. He's the superhero in the book.


Gerald from Old Westbury, NY: Stephanie has a knack for getting into binds and improvising her way out. How do you come up with the obstacles she faces in each book? Do you plot them out before you write, or do you write Stephanie into corners and watch what happens from there? Thank you.

Janet Evanovich: I pretty much know where I'm going ahead of time. But sometimes ahead of time isn't so far ahead.


Suzi from MA: I understand you were an art major in college. What made you decide to set aside your paints and brushes and pursue writing instead?

Janet Evanovich: I started to break out from the pigment. Also, I realized I loved the audience and wanted to be able to reach more people.


Debby from Tunnel Hill, GA: Love all your books, especially the recent way you've kept us all dangling. How much of Stephanie is you?

Janet Evanovich: Stephanie and I share a lot of the same history. (I learned to drive on the '53 Buick!) And I've given her some of my embarrassing moments. Mostly, Stephanie and I react the same way. We both eat junk food and think the ideal exercise is shopping.


Blinkie from Raleigh, NC: (Third try, either you'll get this or Tom Clancy's mailbox is getting full.) In a previous chat, you mentioned that some "stand-alone" books might be in our future. Could you tell us if they'll be mysteries, humor, et cetera?

Janet Evanovich: They'll definitely be funny. And probably they'll have a strong adventure element.


Jeannie from Marshfield, MA: Janet, FOUR TO SCORE had some pretty hot and heavy hoochy-coochy scenes. Does your son read your books, and what does he think about his Mum writing scenes like those?

Janet Evanovich: My webmaster daughter (Alex) and my son (Peter) both help edit my books. After reading my romance novels for five years, they're not too shocked by the hoochy-coochy scenes in FOUR.


Belly from Bangor, ME: I read in an article in USA Today that at the time you were writing romance, you knew 42 adjectives to describe a nipple! I had no idea there were so many! Could you give us some of your favorites?

Janet Evanovich: Rubbery, raisiny, turgid, puny, bogus, flatulent -- I could go on forever.


Kelly Goldberg from Saint Petersburg, FL: Please tell me it is Ranger at the door. Joe is cute and sexy, but he's had 20-some years to get his act together. As Lula says about Ranger, "He's the shit." I can't tell you how much I love these fun, crazy characters and, especially, their nonconformist roles and lives.

Janet Evanovich: Thanks. And good try, but no cigar.


Alana and Elyse from San Diego, CA: My daughter and I just purchased a Russian Dwarf hamster and named him Rex in honor of you know who! Book five was great, laughed till I hurt. Glad to hear book six is almost finished.

Janet Evanovich: Angus is a Russian Dwarf too!


Rhonda from Tulsa, OK: I really get a kick out of all the recurring characters in your books, but Grandma Mazur is probably my favorite -- after Stephanie and Morelli. Grandma is a hoot! She reminds me of my own granny (with whom I was almost arrested once during an illicit fireworks shootin' spree). Is she based on a real person? Do you have a similar relationship with your own grandmother?

Janet Evanovich: Grandma Mazur is in part my Grandma Schneider, who was known to knock back a few Manhattans. And also my Aunt Lena, who spent many enjoyable hours at viewings.


Jean from La Habra, CA: Hi, Janet -- I enjoyed meeting you at Book Carnival in Orange, CA, and loved HIGH FIVE. I am a big fan of Grandma Mazur, and I was wondering if the grandmas in the Burg are really just like her.

Janet Evanovich: Jean -- nice to see you here. Not all grandmas in the Burg are like Grandma Mazur -- but there are a few.


Kelly from St. Pete: I was lucky enough to read one of your earlier books in romance, and I wondered if it is easier to write for a series/line or to go solo and write longer novels.

Janet Evanovich: I'm having fun with this series. When I was doing the little romance novels, I found I hated leaving the hero and heroine to start a new book.


Kelly from St. Pete: There are a lot of really great women authors today: you, Linda Howard, and many more in romance, suspense, and mystery. Do you feel that women in publishing and writing get the respect they deserve? Or do you still perceive the old romance and "women's fiction" prejudice?

Janet Evanovich: I see no prejudice toward women. In fact, I think it might be just the opposite. I think women are flourishing in fiction these days.


Kelly from Ft. Worth: Hi, Janet! I love your books...thanks for all the laughs. Do you have plans to bring back Sally Sweet in the future? Thanks.

Janet Evanovich: Sally will definitely return.


Moderator: Thank you so much for joining us tonight, Janet Evanovich! We'd all like to thank you for taking our questions -- it's been a lot of fun! Before you go, do you have any closing comments for your online audience?

Janet Evanovich: Just that everyone should come and visit me! www.evanovich.com. Night all. It was fun!


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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2012

    OMG - This book is awesome!!!

    So for I have read every book in this series up until this book. It is rediculously good. I can not wait to read the whole series!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2003

    Read this book if you want to laugh out loud!!!!!!

    I take the bus to and from work everyday and ALWAYS have my nose stuck in a book. I read High Five first of all of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series and laughed all the way to work. People kept looking at me and a few even stopped me to see what I was reading. I have to say, of all of Janet's Plum series, Two for the Dough was my favorite with High Five coming in second.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2012

    I am enjoying the series

    I continue to read this series because it is a fun, easy read. The character development (both good and bad guys) throughout the series is great. A previous reviewer of the series commented that the plot is quite repetitive from book to book. It is true: bounty hunter is broke and hungy, bounty hunter gets trivial but humorous cases and also gets involved over her head in a more serious case where she is shot at or her car is blown up or apartment ransacked or set on fire. Bounty hunter has on and off again relationship and is toying with a second affair. Bounty hunter solves cases, eats and all ends well. Despite the same plot, the author writes with great wit and sense of humor that keeps me engaged in the series. I alternate these books with heavier reading.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    Very good book , You will laugh your head off.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 22, 2012

    Highly Recommend.

    Love the story line. There is always adventure and lots of good laughter. I just chuckle as I read and love Stephanie's nature to find good in everything that is going on. It keeps you interested throughout the whole book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 26, 2012

    This series is phenomenal

    This series is phenomenal

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 17, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    entertaining series, you should ck them out

    very entertaining. mystery series, with a touch of romance, and laughable moments. i love the series.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 15, 2012

    Great Series

    Love them all

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2012

    Great book!!

    I like ms Plum's charactor

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2012

    Book

    Hfhiyfvk

    1 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2012

    Finished

    I enjoyed this novel...not able to read as much as I used to, but it's nice to get lost in Stephanie Plum's world.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2012

    Addicted

    Wish i could afford the whole set all at once!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2012

    Great Reading

    Series was recommended by my doctor and I am so glad she did. Stephanie Plum is an accident waiting to happen in every situation. I laughed out loud when I read this book. Planning on reading the whole series.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2011

    Best yet!

    I think this is the best yet!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2011

    Good Entertainment Reading

    I always know when I begin a new book in the Stephanie Plum series that I will be highly entertained. I find myself laughing out loud every page or two! This series of books is a nice break from more serious reading. The books are short, the characters hilarious and interesting. I will continue to read each book in the series, as long as Janet Evanovich keeps writing them.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Bahahaha

    Oh I didnt once put this book down - Ive so fallen in love with Grandma and Lula and poor Steph! - Shes great - This is a series anyone who is light harted could fall in love with!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2011

    Bad Language

    The book series is great. However, it has bad language in it. I could have been just as good without the language.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Wow!

    What a cliff-hanger ending! Ready to start #6!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2011

    Never want to put it down.

    I go through these books so fast and they always leaving me wanting more. Great read!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 4, 2011

    High Five

    Awesom, fast readiinng, great characters

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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