My name is Stephanie Plum. When I was eighteen I got a job working
a hotdog stand on the boardwalk on the Jersey shore. I worked the
last shift at Dave's Dogs, and I was supposed to start shutting
down a half hour before closing so I could clean up for the day
crew. We did chilli dogs, cheese dogs, kraut dogs and bean topped
barking dogs. We grilled them on a big grill with rotating rods.
Round and round the rods went all day long, turning the dogs
Dave Loogie owned the dog stand and came by every night to lock the
stand down. He checked the garbage to make sure nothing good was
thrown away, and he counted the dogs that were left on the
"You gotta plan ahead," Dave told me every night. "You got more
than five dogs left on the grill when we close, I'm gonna fire your
ass and hire someone with bigger tits."
So every night, fifteen minutes before closing, before Dave showed
up, I ate hotdogs. Not a good way to go when you're working at the
shore nights and on the beach in a skimpy bathing suit by day. One
night I ate fourteen hotdogs. Okay, maybe it was only nine, but it
felt like fourteen. Anyway, it was too many hotdogs. Well hell, I
needed the job
For years Dave's Dogs took the number one slot on my list of all
time crappy jobs held. This morning, I decided my present position
had finally won the honor of replacing Dave's Dogs. I'm a bounty
hunter. A bond enforcement agent if you want to make me sound more
legitimate. I work for my cousin Vinnie in his bail bonds office in
the Chambersburg section of Trenton. At least I used to work for my
cousin Vinnie. Thirty seconds ago I quit. I handed in the phony
badge I bought off the net. I gave back my cuffs. And I dropped my
remaining open files on Connie's desk
Vinnie writes the bonds. Connie shuffles the paperwork. My sidekick
Lula files when the mood strikes her. And an incredibly sexy,
incredibly handsome bad-ass named Ranger and I hunt down the morons
who don't show up for trial. Until today. As of thirty seconds ago,
all the morons got transferred to Ranger's list
"Give me a break," Connie said. "You can't quit. I've got a stack
of open files."
"Give them to Ranger."
"Ranger doesn't do the low bonds. He only takes the high risk
"Give them to Lula."
Lula was standing hand on hip, watching me spar with Connie. Lula's
a size sixteen black woman squashed into size ten leopard print
spandex. And the weird thing is in her own way, Lula looks pretty
good in the animal spandex
"Hell yeah," Lula said. "I could catch them sonsabitches. I could
hunt down their asses good. Only I'm gonna miss you," she said to
me. "What are you gonna do if you don't work here? And what brought
"Look at me!" I said. "What do you see?"
"I see a mess," Lula said. "You should take better care of
"I went after Sam Sporky this morning."
"Yeah. Melon-head. I chased him through three yards. A dog tore a
hole in my jeans. Some crazy old lady shot at me. And I finally
tackled Sporky behind the Tip Top Cafe."
"Looks like it was garbage day," Lula said. "You don't smell too
good. And you got something looks like mustard all over your ass.
Least I hope that's mustard."
"There were a bunch of garbage bags at the curb and Melon-head
rolled me into them. We made sort of a mess. And then when I
finally got him in cuffs, he spit on me!"
"I imagine that's the gob of something stuck in your hair?"
"No. He spit on my shoe. Is there something in my hair?"
Lula gave an involuntary shiver
"Sounds like a normal day," Connie said. "Hard to believe you're
quitting because of Melon-head."
Truth is, I don't exactly know why I was quitting. My stomach feels
icky when I get up in the morning. And I go to bed at night
wondering where my life is heading. I've been working as a bounty
hunter for a while now and I'm not the world's best. I barely make
enough money to cover my rent each month. I've been stalked by
crazed killers, taunted by naked fat men, fire-bombed, shot at,
spat at, cussed at, chased by humping dogs, attacked by a flock of
Canadian honkers, rolled in garbage, and my cars get destroyed at
an alarming rate
And maybe the two men in my life add to the icky feeling in my
stomach. They're both Mr. Right. And they're both Mr. Wrong.
They're both a little scary. I wasn't sure if I wanted a
relationship with either of them. And I hadn't a clue how to choose
between them. One wanted to marry me, sometimes. His name was Joe
Morelli and he was a Trenton cop. Ranger was the other guy, and I
wasn't sure what he wanted to do with me beyond get me naked and
put a smile on my face
Plus, there was the note that got slipped under my door two days
ago. I'M BACK. What the heck did that mean? And the follow-up note
tacked to my windshield. DID YOU THINK I WAS DEAD?
My life is too weird. It's time for a change. Time to get a more
sensible job and sort out my future
Connie and Lula shifted their attention from me to the front door.
The bonds office is located on Hamilton Avenue. It's a small two
room storefront setup with a cluttered storage area in the back,
behind a bank of file cabinets. I didn't hear the door open. And I
didn't hear footsteps. So either Connie and Lula were hallucinating
or else Ranger was in the room.
Ranger is the mystery man. He's a half head taller than me, moves
like a cat, kicks ass all day long, only wears black, smells warm
and sexy, and is one hundred percent pure perfectly toned muscle.
He gets his dark complexion and liquid brown eyes from Cuban
ancestors. He was Special Forces and that's about all anyone knows
about Ranger. Well hell, when you smell that good and look that
good who cares about anything else, anyway?
I can usually feel Ranger standing behind me. Ranger doesn't
ordinarily leave any space between us. Today, Ranger was keeping
his distance. He reached around me and dropped a file and a body
receipt on Connie's desk
"I brought Angel Robbie in last night," he said to Connie. "You can
mail the check to Rangeman."
Rangeman is Ranger's company. It's located in an office building in
center city and specializes in security systems and kneecap
"I got big news," Lula said to Ranger. "I've been promoted to
bounty hunter on account of Stephanie just quit."
Ranger picked a couple strands of sauerkraut off my shirt and
pitched them into Connie's wastebasket. "Is that true?"
"Yes," I said. "I quit. I'm done fighting crime. I've rolled in
garbage for the last time."
"Hard to believe," Ranger said
"I'm thinking of getting a job at the button factory," I told him.
"I hear they're hiring."
"I don't have a lot of domestic instincts," Ranger said to me, his
attention fixing on the unidentifiable glob of goo in my hair, "but
I have a real strong urge to take you home and hose you
I went dry mouth. Connie bit into her lower lip, and Lula fanned
herself with a file
"I appreciate the offer," I told him. "Maybe some other
"Babe," Ranger said on a smile. He nodded to Lula and Connie and
left the office
No one said anything until he drove off in his shiny black Porsche
"I think I wet my pants," Lula said. "Was that one of them double
* * *
I drove back to my apartment, took a shower all by myself and got
dressed up in a stretchy white tank top and a tailored black suit
with a short skirt. I stepped into four inch black heels, fluffed
up my almost shoulder length curly brown hair and added one last
layer to my mascara and lipstick
I'd taken a couple minutes to print out a resume on my computer. It
was pathetically short. Graduated with mediocre grades from
Douglass College. Worked as a lingerie buyer for a cheap department
store for a bunch of years. Got fired. Tracked down scumbags for my
cousin Vinnie. Seeking management position in a classy company. Of
course this was Jersey and classy here might not be the national
I grabbed my big black leather shoulder bag and yelled good-by to
my roomy, Rex-the-hamster. Rex lives in a glass aquarium on the
kitchen counter. Rex is pretty much nocturnal so we're sort of like
ships passing in the night. As an extra treat, once in a while I
drop a Cheez Doodle into his cage and he emerges from his soup can
home to retrieve the doodle. That's about as complicated as our
I live on the second floor of a blocky, no frills, three-story
apartment building. My apartment looks out over the parking lot,
which is fine by me. Most of the residents in my building are
seniors. They're home in front of their televisions before the sun
goes down, so the lot side is quiet at night
I exited my apartment and locked up behind myself. I took the
elevator to the small ground floor lobby, pushed through the double
glass doors and crossed the lot to my car. I was driving a dark
green Saturn SL-2. The Saturn had been the special of the day at
Generous George's Used Car Emporium. I'd actually wanted a Lexus
SC430 but Generous George thought the Saturn was more in line with
my budget constraints
I slid behind the wheel and cranked the engine over. I was heading
off to apply for a job at the button factory and I was feeling down
about it. I was telling myself it was a new beginning, but truth
is, it felt more like a sad ending. I turned onto Hamilton and
drove a couple blocks to Tasty Pastry Bakery, thinking a doughnut
would be just the thing to brighten my mood
Five minutes later, I was on the sidewalk in front of the bakery,
doughnut bag in hand, and I was face to face with Morelli. He was
wearing jeans and scuffed boots and a black v-neck sweater over a
black t-shirt. Morelli is six foot of lean, hard muscle and hot
Italian libido. He's Jersey guy smart, and he's not a man you'd
want to annoy ...unless you're me. I've been annoying Morelli all
"I was driving by and saw you go in," Morelli said. He was standing
close, smiling down at me, eyeing the bakery bag. "Boston creams?"
he asked, already knowing the answer
"I needed happy food."
"You should have called me," he said, hooking his finger into the
neckline of my white tank, pulling the neck out to take a look
inside. "I have just the thing to make you happy."
I've cohabitated with Morelli from time to time and I knew this to
be true. "I have stuff to do this afternoon and doughnuts take less
"Cupcake, I haven't seen you in weeks. I could set a new land speed
record for getting happy."
"Yeah, but that would be your happiness," I said, opening the bag,
sharing the doughnuts with Morelli. "What about mine?"
"Your happiness would be top priority."
I took a bite of doughnut. "Tempting, but no. I have a job
interview at the button factory. I'm done with bond
"When did this happen?"
"About an hour ago," I said. "Okay, I don't actually have an
interview appointment, but Karen Slobodsky works in the personnel
office, and she said I should look her up if I ever wanted a
"I could give you a job," Morelli said. "The pay wouldn't be great
but the benefits would be pretty decent."
"Gee," I said, "that's the second scariest offer I've had
"And the scariest offer would be?"
I didn't think it was smart to tell Morelli about Ranger's offer of
a hosing down. Morelli was wearing a gun on his hip, and Ranger
wore guns on multiple parts of his body. Seemed like a bad idea to
say something that might rachet up the competition between
I leaned into Morelli and kissed him lightly on the mouth. "It's
too scary to share," I told him. He felt nice against me, and he
tasted like doughnut. I ran the tip of my tongue along his lower
lip. "Yum," I said
Morelli's fingers curled into the back of my jacket. "Yum is a
little mild for what I'm feeling. And what I'm feeling shouldn't be
happening on the sidewalk in front of the bakery. Maybe we could
get together tonight."
"Yeah, that too."
I'd been taking a time out from Morelli and Ranger, hoping to get a
better grip on my feelings, but I wasn't making much progress. It
was like choosing between birthday cake and a big boy margarita.
How could I possibly decide? And probably I'd be better off without
either, but jeez, that wouldn't be any fun.
"Okay," I said. "I'll meet you at Pino's."
"I was thinking my house. The Mets are playing and Bob misses
Bob is Morelli's dog. Bob is a big orange incredibly huggable
shaggy haired monster with an eating disorder. Bob eats
"No fair," I said. "You're using Bob to lure me to your
"Yeah," Morelli said. "So?"
I blew out a sigh. "I'll be over around six."
I drove a couple blocks down Hamilton and left turned onto Olden.
The button factory is just beyond the city limits of north Trenton.
At four in the morning, it's a ten minute drive from my apartment.
At all other hours, the drive time is unpredictable. I stopped for
a red light at the corner of Olden and State and just as the light
flashed green I heard the pop of gunshot behind me and the zing,
zing, zing of three rounds tearing into metal and fiberglass. I was
pretty sure it was my metal and fiberglass, so I floored the Saturn
and sailed across the intersection. I crossed North Clinton and
kept going, checking my rearview mirror. Hard to tell in traffic,
but I didn't think anyone was following me. My heart was racing,
and I was telling myself to chill. No reason to believe this was
anything more than a random shooting. Probably just some gang guy
having fun, practicing his sniping. You've got to practice
I fished my cell phone out of my purse and called Morelli.
"Someone's taking potshots at cars on the corner of Olden and
State," I told him. "You might want to send someone over to check
"Are you okay?"
"I'd be better if I had that second doughnut." Okay, so this was my
best try at bravado. My hands were white knuckled gripping the
wheel and my foot was shaking on the gas pedal. I sucked in some
air and told myself I was just a little excited. Not panicked. Not
terrified. Just a little excited. All I had to do was calm down and
take a couple more deep breaths and I'd be fine
Ten minutes later I pulled the Saturn into the button factory
parking lot. The entire factory was housed in a mammoth three-story
red brick building. The bricks were dark with age, the
old-fashioned double hung windows were grimy, and the landscaping
was lunar. Dickens would have loved it. I wasn't so sure it was my
thing. But then, my thing wasn't clearly defined anymore.
I got out and walked to the rear of the car, hoping I'd been wrong
about the gunshot. I felt another dump of adrenalin when I saw the
damage. I'd taken three hits. Two rounds were embedded in the back
panel and one had destroyed a rear light
No one had followed me into the lot, and I didn't see any cars
lingering on the road. Wrong place, wrong time, I told myself. And
I would have believed it entirely if it hadn't been for my lousy
previous job and the two notes. As it was, I had to back-burner
some paranoia so as not to be in a terror induced cold sweat while
trying to talk some guy into hiring me
I crossed the lot to the large double glass doors leading to the
offices, and I sashayed through the doors into the lobby. The lobby
was small with a chipped tile floor and seasick green walls.
Somewhere, not far off, I could hear machines stamping out buttons.
Phones rang in another part of the building. I approached the
reception desk and asked for Karen Slobodsky
"Sorry," the woman said. "You're two hours too late. She just quit.
Stormed out of here like hurricane Slobodsky, yelling something
about sexual harassment."
"So there's a job opening?" I asked, thinking my day was finally
"Sure looks that way. I'll buzz her boss, Jimmy Alizzi."
Ten minutes later, I was in Alizzi's office, sitting across from
him. He was at his desk and his slight frame was dwarfed by his
massive furniture. He looked to be in his late thirties to early
forties. He had slicked back black hair and an accent and skin tone
that had me thinking Indian
"I will tell you now that I am not Indian," Alizzi said. "Everyone
thinks I am Indian, but that is a false assumption. I come from a
very small island country off the coast of India."
"No, no, no," he said, wagging his bony finger at me. "Not Sri
Lanka. My country is even smaller. We are a very proud people, so
you must be careful not to make ethnic slurs."
"Sure. You want to tell me the name of this country?"
"Never heard of it."
"You see, already you are treading in very dangerous waters."
I squelched a grimace.
"So, you were a bounty hunter," he said, skimming over my resume,
eyebrows raised. "That is a quite exciting job. Why would you want
to quit such a job?"
"I'm looking for something that has more potential for
"Oh dear, that would be my job you would eventually be
"Yes, well I'm sure it would take years and then who knows ...you
might be president of the company by then."
"You are an outrageous flatterer," he said. "I like that. And what
would you do if I were to ask you for sexual favors? Would you
threaten to sue me?"
"No. I guess I'd ignore you. Unless you got physical. Then I'd have
to kick you in a place that hurt a lot and you probably wouldn't be
able to father any children."
"That sounds fair," he said. "It happens that I have an immediate
position to fill so you're hired. You can start tomorrow, promptly
at eight o'clock. Do not be late."
Wonderful. I have a real job in a nice clean office where no one
will shoot at me. I should be happy, yes? This was what I wanted,
wasn't it? Then why do I feel so depressed?
I dragged myself down the stairs to the lobby and out to the
parking lot. I found my car and the depression deepened. I hated my
car. Not that it was a bad car. It just wasn't the right car. Not
to mention, it would be great to have a car that didn't have three
bullet holes in it
Maybe I needed another doughnut.
* * *
A half hour later I was back in my apartment. I'd stopped in at
Tasty Pastry and left with a day old birthday cake. The cake said
Happy Birthday Larry. I don't know how Larry celebrated his
birthday, but apparently it was without cake. Larry's loss was my
gain. If you want to get happy, birthday cake is the way to go.
This was a yellow cake with thick, disgusting, white frosting made
with lard and artificial butter and artificial vanilla and a truck
load of sugar. It was decorated with big gunky roses made out of
pink and yellow and purple frosting. It was three layers thick with
lemon cream between the layers. And it was designed to serve eight
people, so it was just the right size
I dropped my clothes on the floor and dug into the cake. I gave a
chunk of cake to Rex, and I worked on the rest. I ate all the
pieces with the big pink roses. I was starting to feel nauseous,
but I pressed on. I ate all the pieces with the big yellow roses. I
had a purple rose and a couple roseless pieces left. I couldn't do
it. I couldn't eat any more cake. I staggered into my bedroom. I
needed a nap
I dropped a T-shirt over my head and pulled on a pair of Scooby-Doo
boxers with an elastic waist. God, don't you love clothes with
elastic? I had one knee on the bed when I saw the note pinned to my
pillowcase. BE AFRAID. BE VERY AFRAID. NEXT TIME I'LL AIM
I thought I'd be more afraid if I hadn't just eaten five pieces of
birthday cake. As it was, I was mostly afraid of throwing up. I
looked under the bed, behind the shower curtain and in all the
closets. No knuckle dragging monsters anywhere. I slid the bolt
home on the front door and shuffled back to the bedroom
Now here's the thing. This isn't the first time someone's broken
into my apartment. In fact, people regularly break in. Ranger
slides in like smoke. Morelli has a key. And various bad guys and
psychos have managed to breach the three locks I keep on the door.
Some have even left threatening messages. So I wasn't as freaked
out as I might have been prior to my career in bounty huntering. My
immediate feelings ran more toward numb despair. I wanted all the
scary things to go away. I was tired of scary. I'd quit my scary
job, and now I wanted the scary people out of my life. I didn't
want to be kidnapped ever again. I didn't want to be held at
knifepoint or gunpoint. I didn't want to be threatened, stalked or
run off the road by a homicidal maniac
I crawled under the covers and pulled the quilt over my head. I was
almost asleep when the quilt was yanked back. I let out a shriek
and stared up at Ranger
"What the hell are you doing?" I yelled at him, grabbing at the
"Did you ever think about ringing a doorbell?"
Ranger smiled down at me. "That would take all the fun out of
"I didn't know you were interested in fun."
He sat on the side of the bed and the smile widened. "You smell
good enough to eat," Ranger said. "You smell like a party."
"It's birthday cake breath. And are we looking at another double
"Yeah," Ranger said, "but it's not going anywhere. I have to get
back to work. Tank's waiting for me with the motor running. I just
wanted to find out if you're serious about quitting."
"I got the job at the button factory. I start tomorrow."
He reached across and removed the note from the pillowcase next to
me. "New boyfriend?"
"Someone broke in while I was out. And I guess he shot at me this
Ranger stood. "You should discourage people from doing that. Do you
"Babe," Ranger said. And he left
I listened carefully, but I didn't hear the front door open or
close. I got up and tiptoed through the apartment. No Ranger. All
the locks were locked and the bolt was in place. I suppose he could
have gone out the living room window, but he would have had to
climb down the side of the building like Spiderman
The phone rang, and I waited to see the number pop up on my caller
ID. It was Lula. "Yo," I said
"Yo, your ass. You got some nerve sticking me with this job."
"I must've had sun stroke. A person have to be nuts to want this
"Something go wrong?"
"Hell, yes. Everything's wrong. I could use some assistance here.
I'm trying to snag Willie Martin, and he's not cooperating."
"How uncooperative is he?"
"He hauled his nasty ass out of his apartment and left me
handcuffed to his big stupid bed."
"That's pretty uncooperative."
"Yeah, and it gets worse. I sort of don't have any clothes
"Omigod! Did he attack you?"
"It's a little more complicated than that. He was in the shower
when I busted in. You ever see Willie Martin naked? He is fine. He
used to play pro ball until he made a mess of his knee and had to
turn to boosting cars."
"Well one thing led to another and here I am chained to his hunk of
junk bed. Hell, it's not like I get it regular, you know. I'm real
picky about my men. And besides, anybody would've jumped those
bones. He's got muscles on muscles and a butt you want to sink your
The mental image had me considering turning vegetarian.
* * *
Willie Martin lived in a third floor loft in a graffiti riddled
warehouse that contained a ground floor chop shop. It was located
on the seven hundred block of Stark Street, an area of urban decay
that rivaled Iraqi bomb sites
I parked behind Lula's red Firebird Trans Am and transferred my
five shot Smith & Wesson from my purse to my jacket pocket. I'm
not much of a gun person and almost never carry one, but I was
sufficiently creeped out by the shooting and the notes that I
didn't want to venture onto Stark Street unarmed. I locked the car,
bypassed the rickety open cage service elevator on the ground floor
and trudged up two flights of stairs. The stairwell opened to a
small grimy foyer and a door with a size nine high-heeled boot
print on it. I guess Willie hadn't answered on the first knock and
Lula got impatient
I tried the doorknob, and the door swung open. Thank God for small
favors because I'd never had any success at kicking in a door. I
tentatively stuck my head in and called hello
"Hello yourself," Lula said. "And don't say no more. I'm not in a
good mood. Just unlock these piece of crap handcuffs and stand back
because I need fries. I need a whole shit load of fries. I'm having
a fast food emergency."
Lula was across the room, wrapped in a sheet, one hand cuffed to
the iron headboard of the bed, the other hand holding the sheet
I pulled the universal handcuff key out of my pocket and looked
around the room. "Where are your clothes?"
"He took them. Do you believe that? Said he was going to teach me a
lesson not to go after him. I tell you, you can't trust a man. They
get what they want and then next thing they got their tighty
whities in their pocket and they're out the door. I don't know what
he was so upset about, anyway. I was just doing my job. He said,
was that good for you? And I said, oh yeah baby, it was real good.
And then I tried to cuff him. Hell, truth is it wasn't all that
good and besides, I'm a professional bounty hunter now. Bring 'em
back dead or alive, with or without their pants, right? I had an
obligation to cuff him."
"Yeah, well next time put your clothes on before you try to cuff a
Lula unlocked the cuffs and tied a knot in the sheet to hold it
closed. "That's good advice. I'm gonna remember that. That's the
kind of advice I need to be a first class bounty hunter. At least
he forgot to take my purse. I'd be really annoyed if he'd taken my
purse." She went to a chest on the far wall, pulled out one of
Willie's T-shirts and a pair of gym shorts and put them on. Then
she scooped the rest of the clothes out of the chest, carried them
to the window and threw them out
"Okay," Lula said, "I'm starting to feel better now. Thanks for
coming here to help me. And good news, it looks like no one's
stolen your car. I saw it still sitting at the curb." Lula went to
the closet and scooped up more clothes. Suits, shoes and jackets.
All went out the window. "I'm on a roll now," she said, looking
around the loft. "What else we got that can go out the window. You
think we can fit his big ass TV? Hey, how about some kitchen
appliances. Go get me his toaster." She crossed the room, grabbed a
table lamp and brought it to the window. "Hey!" she yelled, head
out the window, eyes focused on the street. "Get away from that
car. Willie, is that you? What the hell are you doing?"
I ran to the window and looked out. Willie Martin was wailing away
at my car with a sledgehammer
"I'll show you to throw my clothes outta the window," he said,
taking a swing at the right rear quarter panel
"You dumb premature ejaculator," Lula shouted at him. "You dumb-ass
moron! That's not my car."
"Oh. Oops," Willie said. "Which one's your car?"
Lula hauled a Glock out of her purse, squeezed off two rounds in
Willie's direction, and Willie left the scene. One of the rounds
pinged off my car roof. And the other round made a small hole in my
"Must be something wrong with the sight on this gun," Lula said to
me. "Sorry about that."
I trudged down the stairs and stood on the sidewalk examining my
car. Deep scratch in roof from misplaced bullet. Hole in windshield
plus embedded bullet in passenger seat. Bashed in right rear
quarter panel and right passenger side door from sledgehammer.
Previous damage from creepy gun attack by insane stalker. And
someone had spray painted EAT ME on the driver's side door
"Your car's a mess," Lula said. "I don't know what it is with you
Excerpted from ELEVEN ON TOP © Copyright 2005 by
Evanovich, Inc. Reprinted with permission by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved.