My mother and grandmother raised me to be a good girl, and I have no problem with the girl part. I like men, malls and carbs. Not necessarily in that order. The good part has been spotty. I don't steal cars or sniff glue, but I've had a lot of impure thoughts. And I've acted on a bunch of them. Not limited to, but including, snooping through a guy's drawers in search of his underwear. On the surface this doesn't sound like a majorly hot experience, but this was no ordinary guy, and I couldn't find any underwear.
My mother and my Grandma Mazur are really good. They pray everyday and regularly go to church. I have good intentions but religion for me is like tennis. I play an excellent mental game and in my mind's eye I look terrific in the little white skirt, but the reality is I never actually get onto the court.
It's usually when I'm in the shower that I think of things spiritual and mystical and wonder about the unknown. Like, is there life after death? And just exactly what is collagen? And suppose Wonder Woman actually exists? If she was discreet you might not know, right?
Today is St. Patrick's Day, and when I was in the shower this morning my thoughts were about luck. How does it work? Why are some people flat out lucky and others not so lucky? Virgil said fortune favors the bold. Okay, so I read that on the stall door in the ladies room of the multiplex last week, and I don't personally know Virgil, but I like his thinking. Still, there has to be something else going on besides being bold. Things we can't comprehend.
My name is Stephanie Plum, and I try to leave the incomprehensible in the shower. Life is tough enough without walking around all day wondering why God invented cellulite. I'm a skip tracer for my cousin Vinnie's bail bonds agency in Trenton, New Jersey, and I spend my day hunting felons who are hiding in attics. It was a little after nine AM, and I was on the sidewalk in front of the bonds office with my sidekick Lula.
"You're a holiday shirker," Lula said. "Every time a holiday comes up, you don't do your part. Here it is St. Patrick's Day and you don't have no green on you. You're lucky there's no holiday police because they'd haul your boney behind off to the shirker's dungeon."
"I don't own anything green." Okay, an olive drab t-shirt, but it was dirty.
"I own lots of green. I look good in it," Lula said. "But then I look good in all colors. Maybe not brown on account of it blends with my skin tone. Brown's too much of a good thing on me."
Lula's borderline too much of a good thing in lots of ways. It isn't exactly that Lula is fat; it's more that she's too short for her weight, and her clothes are too small for the volume of flesh she carries. Her attitude is Jersey times ten, and today her hair was candy apple red. She was packed into shamrock-green animal print stretch pants, a matching green sequin encrusted stretchy top, and spike-heeled dark green suede ankle boots. Lula was a hooker before she took the job at the bonds office, and I was guessing this outfit was left over from the St. Patrick's Day fantasy collection.
Truth is, I sometimes feel a little boring and incredibly pale when I'm with Lula. I'm Hungarian and Italian descent, and my complexion is more Eastern European than Mediterranean. I have shoulder length, unexceptional curly brown hair, blue eyes and a nice nose that I inherited from the Mazur side of the family. I was in my usual jeans and sneakers and long-sleeved t-shirt that carried the Rangers hockey team logo. The temperature was in the fifties, and Lula and I were bundled into hooded sweatshirts. Lula's sweatshirt said KISS ME I'M PRETENDING I'M IRISH, and mine was grey with a small chocolate ice cream stain on the cuff.
Lula and I were on our way to get a Lucky Clucky Shake at Cluck in a Bucket, and Lula was rooting through her purse, trying to find her car keys.
"I know I got those keys in here somewhere," Lula said, pulling stuff out of her purse, piling everything onto the hood of her car. Gum, lip balm, stun gun, cell phone, a forty caliber nickel plated Glock, TicTacs, a can of Mace, a personal mood candle, a flashlight, handcuffs, a screwdriver, nail polish, the pearl handled derringer she got as a Valentine's Day present from her honey Tank, a musical bottle opener, a roll of toilet paper, Rolaids...
"A screwdriver?" I asked her.
"You never know when you'll need one. You'd be surprised what you could do with a screwdriver. I got extra strength cherry scented condoms in here too. 'Cause you never know when Tank might be needing some emergency quality time."
Lula found her key, we piled into her red Firebird, and she motored away from the curb. She turned off Hamilton Avenue onto Columbus Avenue, and we both gaped at the grey-haired, wiry little old lady half a block away. The woman was dressed in white tennis shoes, bright green stretch pants, and a grey wool jacket. She had a white bakery bag in one hand and the strap to a large canvas duffle bag in the other. And she was struggling to drag the duffle bag down the sidewalk.
Lula squinted through the windshield. "That's either Kermit the Frog or your granny."
Grandma Mazur's lived with my parents ever since my Grandpa Harry went to the big transfat farm in the sky. Grandma was a closet free spirit for the first seventy years of her life. She kicked the door open when my Grandpa died and now nobody can get her back in. Personally I think she's great ...but then I don't have to live with her.
A car wheeled around the corner and rocked to a stop alongside Grandma.
"Don't look like there's anybody driving that car," Lula said. "I don't see no head."
The driver side door opened, and a little man jumped out. He was slim, with curly short-cropped grey hair, and he was wearing green slacks.
"Look at that," Lula said. "Granny's wearing green and the little tiny man's wearing green. Everybody's wearing green except you. Don't you feel like a party pooper?"
The little man was talking to Grandma, and Grandma wasn't looking happy with him. Grandma started inching away, and the little man snatched the strap on the duffle bag and yanked it out of Grandma's hand. Grandma roundhoused the man on the side of the head with her big black purse, and he dropped to his knees.
"She handles herself real good considering she's so old and rickety," Lula said.
Grandma hit the little man again, the man grabbed Grandma, and the two of them went down to the ground, locked together, rolling around kicking and slapping.
I wrenched the door open, swung out of the Firebird and waded into the mix. I pulled the little man off Grandma, and held him at arm's length.
He squirmed and grunted and flailed his arms. "Let me go!" he yelled, his voice pinched from the exertion. "Do you have any idea who I am?"
"Are you okay?" I asked Grandma.
"Of course I'm okay," Grandma said. "I was winning, too. Didn't it look like I was winning?"
Lula clattered over in her high-heeled boots, got Grandma under the armpits and hoisted her to her feet.
"When I grow up I wanna be just like you," Lula said to Grandma.
I swung my attention back to the little man, but he was gone. His car door slammed shut, the engine caught and the car sped down the street.
"Sneaky little bugger," Lula said. "One minute you had a hold of him and then next thing he's driving away."
"He wanted my bag," Grandma said. "Can you imagine? He said it was his, so I asked him to prove it. And that's when he tried to run off with it."
I looked down at the bag. "What's in it?"
"None of your beeswax."
"What's in the bakery bag?"
"I wouldn't mind a jelly doughnut," Lula said. "A jelly doughnut would go real good with the Lucky Clucky Shake."
"I love them shakes," Grandma said. "I'll share my doughnuts if you take me for a shake, but you gotta leave my duffle bag alone. No one's allowed to snoop in my duffle bag."
"You haven't got a body in there, do you?" Lula wanted to know. "I don't like carrying dead guys around in my Firebird. Messes with the feng shui."
"I couldn't fit a body in here," Grandma said. "It's too little for a body."
"It could be a leprechaun body," Lula said. "It's St. Patrick's Day. If you bagged a leprechaun you could make him take you to his pot of gold."
"I don't know. I hear you gotta be careful of them leprechauns. I hear they're tricky," Grandma said. "Anyways, I haven't got a leprechaun."
* * *
The day after St. Patrick's Day I woke up next to Joe Morelli, my almost always boyfriend. Morelli's a Trenton cop, and he makes me look like an amateur when it comes to the impure thoughts. Not that he's kinky or weird. More that he's frighteningly healthy. He has wavy black hair, expressive brown eyes, a perpetual five o'clock shadow, an eagle tattoo from his Navy days and a tightly muscled, entirely edible body. He's recently become moderately domesticated, having inherited a small house from his Aunt Rose.
Commitment issues and a strong sense of self-preservation keep us from permanently cohabitating together. Genuine affection and the impure thoughts bring Morelli to my bed when our schedules allow intersection. I knew from the amount of sunlight streaming into my bedroom this morning that Morelli had overslept. I turned to look at the clock, and Morelli came awake.
"I'm late," he said.
"Gee, that's too bad," I told him. "I had big plans for this morning."
"I was going to do things to you that don't even have names. Really hot things."
Morelli smiled at me. "I might be able to find a few minutes..."
"You would need more than a few minutes for what I have in mind. It could go on for hours."
Morelli blew out a sigh and rolled out of bed. "I don't have hours. And I've been with you long enough to know when you're yanking my chain."
"You doubt my intentions?"
"Cupcake my best shot at morning sex is to tackle you while you're still sleeping. Once you're awake all you can think about is coffee."
"Not true." Sometimes I thought about pancakes and doughnuts.
Morelli's big orange shaggy haired dog climbed onto the bed and settled into the spot Morelli vacated.
"I was supposed to be at a briefing ten minutes ago," Morelli said. "If you take Bob out to do his thing I can jump in the shower, meet you in the parking lot and only miss the first half of the meeting."
Five minutes later I handed Bob over to Morelli and watched Morelli's SUV chug away. I returned to the building, took the elevator back to my second floor apartment, let myself in and scuffed into the kitchen. I started coffee brewing, and my phone rang.
"Your grandmother is missing," my mother said. "She was gone when I got up this morning. She left a note that said she was hitting the open road. I don't know what that means."
"Maybe she went to a diner with one of her friends. Or maybe she walked up to the bakery."
"It's been hours, and she's not back. And I called all her friends. No one's seen her."
Okay, so I had to admit, it was a little worrisome. Especially since she had the strange duffle bag yesterday and had been attacked by the little man in the green pants. Seemed far-fetched that there would be a connection, but the possibility made my stomach feel squishy.
"This is your grandmother we're talking about," my mother said. "She could be on the side of the road hitchhiking a ride to Vegas. You find people, right? That's what you do for a living. Find your grandmother."
"I'm a bounty hunter. I'm not a magician. I can't just conjure up Grandma."
"You're all I've got," my mother said. "Come over and look for clues. I've got maple link sausages. I've got coffee cake and scrambled eggs."
"Deal," I said. "Give me ten minutes."
I hung up, turned around and bumped into a big guy. I shrieked and jumped back, and he grabbed me.
"Chill," he said. "You just about broke my eardrum. You need to learn to relax."
"Yeah. Did you miss me?"
"That's a fib," he said. "Do I smell coffee?"
Diesel drops into my life every now and then. Actually, this visit makes it only three times, but it seems like more. He's solid muscle, gorgeous and scruffy, and he smells like everything a woman wants ...sex and fresh baked cookies and a hint of Christmas. Okay, I know that's an odd combination but it works for Diesel. Maybe because he's not entirely normal ...but then, who is? He has unruly sandy brown hair and assessing brown eyes. He smiles a lot, and he's pushy and rude and inexplicably charming. And he can do things ordinary men can't do. At least that's the story he tells.
"What are you doing here?" I asked him.
"I'm looking for someone. You don't mind if I hang out here for a couple days, do you?"
He glanced at my coat. "Are you going somewhere?"
"I'm going to my mother's for breakfast."
I blew out a sigh, grabbed my purse and car keys, and we trooped out of my apartment and down the hall. Mrs. Finley from 3D was already in the elevator when we entered. She sucked in some air and pressed herself against the wall.
"It's okay," I said to her. "He's harmless."
"Hah," Diesel said.
Diesel was wearing an outfit that looked like it belonged in the street-person edition of GQ. Jeans with a rip in the knee, dusty shit-kicker boots, a t-shirt advertising Corona beer, a ratty grey sweatshirt over the shirt. Two days of blond beard. Hair that looked like he styled it with an eggbeater. Not that I should judge. I wasn't exactly looking like a suburban sex goddess. My hair was uncombed, I had my feet shoved into Ugg knockoffs, and I had a winter coat buttoned over a pair of Morelli's sweatpants and a flannel pajama top imprinted with duckies.
We all scooted out of the elevator, and Diesel followed me to my car. I was driving a Chevy Monte Carlo clunker that I'd gotten on the cheap because it didn't go into reverse.
"So, Mr. Magic," I said to Diesel. "What can you do with cars?"
"I can drive 'em."
"Can you fix them?"
"I can change a tire."
I did another sigh, wrenched the door open and rammed myself behind the wheel.
My mother dumped a mess of scrambled eggs and over a pound of breakfast sausages onto Diesel's plate. "I got up this morning, and she was gone," my mother said. "Poof."
Diesel didn't look too concerned. I was guessing in his world poof, and you're gone wasn't all that unusual.
"Where did you find the note?" I asked my mother.
"On the kitchen table."
I ate my last piece of sausage. "Last time she disappeared we found her camped out in line, waiting to buy tickets to the Stone's concert."
"I have your father driving around looking, but so far he hasn't seen her."
My father was retired from the Post Office and now drove a cab part-time. Mostly he drove the cab to his lodge to play cards with his friends, but sometimes he picked up early morning fares to the train station.
I drained my coffee cup, pushed back from the table and went upstairs and looked around Grandma's room. From what I could tell she'd taken her purse, her grey jacket, her teeth and the clothes on her back. There was no sign of struggle. No blood stains. No duffle bag. There was a brochure for Daffy's Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City on her nightstand.
I traipsed back downstairs to the kitchen. "Where's the big bag?"
"What big bag?" my mother wanted to know.
"Grandma had a big bag with her yesterday. It's not in her room."
"I don't know anything about a bag," my mother said.
"Did Grandma just get her social security check?"
"A couple days ago."
So maybe she bought herself some new clothes, stuffed them into the duffle bag and got herself on an early bus to Daffy's.
Diesel finished his breakfast and stood. "Need help?"
"Are you any good at finding lost grandmothers?"
"Nope. Not my area of expertise."
"What is your area of expertise?" I asked him.
Diesel grinned at me.
"Besides that," I said.
"Maybe she just took off for a nooner with the butcher."
"She wouldn't leave in the middle of the night for a nooner."
"If it's any consolation, I don't feel a disturbance in the force," Diesel said. "She wasn't in harm's way when she left the house. Or maybe I'm just feeling mellow after all those sausages and eggs."
Diesel and I have similar jobs. We look for people who have done bad things. Diesel tracks down people with special talents. He refers to them as Unmentionables. I track down people who pretty much have no talent at all. I call them Fugitives. Whatever name you use for the hunted, the hunter has a job that relies heavily on instinct, and after a while you become tuned in to the force. Okay, so that's kind of Obi-Wan Kenobi, but sometimes you walk into a building and get the creeps and know something ugly is waiting around the corner. My creep-o-meter is good, but Diesel's is better. I suspect Diesel's sensory perception is in the zone ordinarily reserved for werewolves. Good thing he isn't excessively hairy or I'd have to wonder.
"I'm going back to my apartment to shower and change. And then I'm going to the office," I told Diesel. "Can I drop you some where?"
"Yeah. My sources tell me the guy I'm looking for was on Mulberry Street yesterday. I want to look around. Maybe talk to a couple people."
"Is this guy dangerous?"
"Not especially, but the idiots following him are."
"I found a brochure for Daffy's in Grandma's room," I told my mother. "She probably took a senior's bus to Atlantic City and will be back tonight."
"Omigod," my mother said, making the sign of the cross. "Your grandmother alone in Atlantic city! Anything could happen. You have to go get her."
Ordinarily I'd think this was a dumb idea, but it was a nice day, and I hadn't been to Atlantic City in ages. It sounded like a perfectly good excuse to take a day off. I had five open cases, but nothing that couldn't wait. And I wouldn't mind putting distance between Diesel and me. Diesel was a complication I didn't need in my life.
An hour later I was dressed in jeans, a long sleeved, v-neck sweater and sweatshirt. I drove to the bail bonds office, parked at the curb and walked into the office.
"What's up?" Lula wanted to know. "We gonna go out and catch bad guys today? I'm ready to kick ass. I got ass kickin' boots on today. I'm wearing a thong two sizes too small, and I'm feeling mean as hell."
Connie Rosolli grimaced. Connie is the office manager, and she's pure Burg Italian American. Her Uncle Lou was wheelman for Two Toes Garibaldi. And it's rumored her Uncle Nunzo helped turn Jimmy Hoffa into a dump truck bumper. Connie's a couple years older than me, a couple inches shorter, and a lot more voluptuous. If Connie's last name was a fruit it would be Cantelope.
"Too much information," Connie said to Lula. "I don't ever want to know about your thong." Connie took a file off her desk and handed it to me. "Just came in. Kenny Brown. Wanted for grand theft auto. Twenty years old."
That meant unless he weighed three hundred pounds he could run faster than me and was going to be a pain in the ass to catch.
I stuffed the Brown file into my shoulder bag. "Grandma Mazur's hit the road. I think she might be at Daffy's, and I told my mother I'd check on her. Any one want to tag along?"
"I wouldn't mind going to Atlantic City," Lula said.
"Me too," Connie said. "I can forward the office calls to my cell phone."
Lula had her bag on her shoulder, and her keys in her hand. "I'm driving. I'm not riding to Atlantic City in a car with no reverse."
"I almost never need it," I told her.
Connie locked the office, and we all piled into the Firebird.
"What's granny doing in Atlantic City?" Lula wanted to know.
I buckled myself in. "I'm not certain she is in Atlantic City. It's just my best guess. But if she is there, I imagine she's playing the slots."
"I'm telling you she had a leprechaun in that duffle bag yesterday," Lula said. "And she took him to Atlantic City. It's just the place to take a lucky leprechaun."
"You don't really believe in leprechauns, do you?" Connie asked Lula.
"Who me? Hell no," Lula said. "I don't know why I said that. It just come out of my mouth. Everybody knows leprechauns aren't real, right?" Lula turned onto Broad. "Still, there's a lot of talk about them, and that talk has to come from somewhere. Remember that Christmas when Trenton was over-run with elves? If there's elves, there might be leprechauns."
"They weren't elves," I told her. "They were vertically challenged people wearing pointy rubber ears, and they were trucked in from Newark as a marketing tool for a toy factory."
"I knew that," Lula said. "But some people thought they were elves."
* * *
It takes about an hour and a half to get from Trenton to Atlantic City. Forty minutes if Lula's behind the wheel. It's flat out highway driving until you get to Pleasantville. After that it's not all that pleasant since the Jersey poor back up to the Jersey shore in Atlantic City. We drove past several blocks of hookers and pushers and empty-eyed street kids, and then suddenly the landscape brightened, and we were at Daffy's. Lula parked in the garage, we fixed our makeup, sprayed our hair, and hoofed it through the maze that leads to the casino floor.
"It's going be hard to spot Grandma Mazur," Connie said. "This place is filled with old people. They bring them in by bus, give them a carton of cigarettes, a ticket to the lunch buffet and show them how to stick their credit card in the slot machine."
"Yeah, people in Jersey know how to enjoy old age," Lula said.
It was true. All over the country we were warehousing old people in nursing homes, feeding them Jell-o. And in Jersey we were busing them into casinos. Dementia and heart disease didn't slow you down in Jersey.
"You could probably order dialysis off the room service menu here," Lula said. "I tell you, I'm glad I'm gonna spend my golden years in Jersey."
"We'll all go in a different direction and look for Grandma," I said. "We'll keep in touch by cell phone."
I was halfway through a tour of the blackjack tables and my phone rang.
"I found her," Connie said. "She's at the slots, playing poker. Go to the big dog in the middle of the room and turn left."
Daffy's was one of the larger, newer casinos on the Boardwalk. In a misguided effort to out-theme Caesar's, the conglomerate owners had chosen to design the casino after the chairman's ten-year old Beagle ...Daffy. There was a Daffy Doodle Bar and a Daffy Delicious restaurant and Daffy paw prints on the purple and gold carpet. The crowning glory was a twenty foot, two ton bronze Daffy that shot laser beams out of its head and barked on the hour, and was located dead center in the main casino.
I turned left at the big bronze Daffy and found Grandma hunched on her stool in front of a Double Bonus Video Poker machine, concentrating on the combinations. Bells were dinging, lights were flashing, and Grandma kept hitting the play button.
Randy Briggs was standing behind Grandma. He was clutching the duffle bag to his chest, alternately looking around the room and watching Grandma play. Briggs is a forty-something computer geek with thinning sandy blond hair, cynical brown eyes and all the charm of Attila the Hun. Holding the bag was awkward for Briggs because Briggs is only three feet tall and his arms barely wrapped around the bag. I've known him for a couple years now and wouldn't go so far as to say we're friends. I suppose we have a professional relationship, more or less.
"Hey," I said to him. "What's up?"
"The usual," Briggs said. "What's up with you?"
"Just hanging out." I looked at the duffle bag. "What's in the bag?"
"Money." Briggs cut his eyes to Connie and Lula. "I've been hired to guard it, so don't anybody get ideas."
"I got ideas," Lula said. "They have to do with sitting on you until you're nothing but a grease spot on the carpet."
Grandma stopped punching the play button and looked around at us. "I'm on a hot streak. Don't get too close or you'll put the whammy on me."
"How much have you won?" I asked her.
"And how much have you poured into the machine?"
"Don't know," Grandma said. "I'm not keeping track."
"I smell buffet," Lula said. "There's a buffet around here somewhere. What time is it? Is it time for the lunch buffet?"
All around us seniors were checking out of their machines and getting on their Rascals and powering up their motorized wheelchairs.
"Look at this," Lula said. "These old people are all gonna beat us to the buffet, and we're gonna have to take leftovers."
"I hate buffets," Briggs said. "I can never reach the good stuff."
"I can reach everything," Lula said. "Every man for himself. Watch out. Coming through. Excuse me."
"I guess it wouldn't hurt to get something to eat," Grandma said. "I've been playing this machine for four hours and my keister is asleep. We gotta get a move on though, so we don't get behind the feebs with walkers and them portable oxygen tanks. They take forever to get through the line."
The buffet was held in the Bowser Room. We bought our tickets, loaded our plates and sat down.
"No offense," I said to Briggs, "but you seem like an odd choice to guard the money."
Briggs dug into a pile of shrimp. "What's that supposed to mean? You think I'm not honest? You think I can't be trusted with the money?"
"I think you're not tall."
"Yeah, but I'm mean and ferocious. I'm like a wolverine."
"I want to know more about the money," I said to Grandma. "Where did you get the money?"
"I found it fair and square."
"How much money are we talking about?"
"I don't know exactly. I kept losing my place when I was counting, but I figure it's close to a million."
Everyone stopped eating and looked at Grandma.
"Did you report it to the police?" I asked her.
"I thought about it but I decided it wasn't police business. I came out of the bakery, and I saw a rainbow. And I was walking home, looking at the rainbow, and I fell over the bag with the money in it."
"And it was St. Patrick's Day. Everybody knows if you find a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow on St. Patrick's Day it's yours."
"That's true," Lula said. "She's got a point."
"I always wanted to see the country, so I took some of the money, and I bought myself an RV," Grandma said. "And this here's my first stop."
"You can't drive," I said to Grandma. "Your license was revoked."
"That's why I hired Randy," Grandma said. "I got a real good deal on the RV because it used to be owned by a little person. The driver's seat is all set up. Soon as I saw it I thought of Randy. I remembered when you two were on that case with the elves."
"They weren't elves," I told Grandma. "They were little people trucked in from Newark. And you can't keep this much money."
"I'm not keeping it," Grandma said. "I'm spending it."
"There are rules. You have to report it, and then wait a certain amount of time before it becomes yours. And you probably have to pay taxes."
I couldn't believe I was saying all this. I sounded like my mother.
"That doesn't apply here," Grandma said. "This is lucky money."
"Guess that's why you won the twelve dollars," Lula said.
"You should take some money," Grandma said. "I got plenty." She looked over at Briggs. "Give everyone one of them bundles."
"I don't think that's a good idea," I said to Grandma. "Suppose someone puts in a claim, and you have to give the money back?"
"That's the beauty of it," Grandma said. "This here's not ordinary money. It's lucky money. You use it to win more money. So there'll always be money if we need it."
"You've been gambling for four hours and you only won twelve dollars!"
"It took me a while to get my rhythm, but I'm hot now," Grandma said.
"Are you sure the money doesn't belong to the little man in the green pants?"
"I asked him how much was in the bag, and he didn't know. He's a common thief. He must have seen me find it, and now he wants to steal it."
"He followed us out of the Burg this morning," Briggs said. "Least I think it was him. It was some little guy in a white Toyota."
I looked around. "Is he here?"
"I haven't seen him," Briggs said. "I lost him when I got into traffic after I turned off the Parkway."
"I'm gonna go get some dessert," Grandma said. "And then I'm hitting the slots again."
"I'm skipping dessert and taking my money to the craps table," Lula said.
"Me too," Connie said. "Only I'm playing blackjack."
Briggs handed the money out and sat tight, using the duffle bag like a booster chair.
My phone rang, and I saw my home number appear in the readout.
"It's feeling lonely here," Diesel said.
"I'm not getting vibes on you or my target. Where are you?"
"Atlantic City. Grandma's here. She found some money, and she's having an adventure."
"Remember the bag I was searching for in her room? She has it here with her, and it's filled with money. She said she was walking home from the bakery yesterday, and she found it sitting on the curb."
"Green duffel bag with a yellow stripe?"
"Oh man, what are the chances," Diesel said. "How much money?"
"Around a million."
"I don't suppose there's a little guy with curly gray hair and green pants lurking somewhere?"
"A little guy in green pants attacked Grandma yesterday. And it's possible he followed her out of the Burg this morning."
"His name is Snuggy O'Connor. He's the guy I'm tracking, and the money in that bag is stolen. If you see him, grab him for me, but don't take your eyes off him or he'll evaporate into thin air."
"No. People don't just evaporate. Boy, you'll believe anything."
"You sort of evaporate. One minute, you're standing behind me, and then you're gone."
"Yeah, but that's me. And it's not easy."
Diesel disconnected, and I went back to my lunch. Macaroni and cheese, potato salad, turkey with gravy, macaroni and cheese, a dinner roll, three-bean salad, and more macaroni and cheese. I like macaroni and cheese. A half hour later, Grandma was back at her video poker machine, and Briggs and I were standing guard. I was hoping Diesel would have a plan when he arrived, because I had no idea what to do with Grandma. It's not like I could put her in handcuffs and drag her home. I caught a flash of fire-engine red in my peripheral vision and realized it was Lula's hair making its way across the casino floor.
"You're not gonna believe this," Lula said, coming up to me.
"I wasn't doing nothing at the craps table, so I changed to roulette, and I took what I had left and put everything on the red... and I lost it all."
"Easy come, easy go," Briggs said. "So much for the lucky money theory."
"Yeah, but turns out it was lucky. The guy standing next to me was some big-ass photographer on a photo shoot for some lingerie company, and he said they were looking for experienced plus-size models. He gave me his card, and he said I should just show up tomorrow first thing in the morning. I almost peed my pants right there. This here's my opportunity. I always wanted to be a supermodel. And a supermodel's just one step away from being a celebrity."
"Just what the world needs," Briggs said. "One more big fat celebrity."
Lula narrowed her eyes at him. "Did you just say I was fat? Is that what I just heard? Because my ears better be wrong, or I'll grind you into midget dust."
"Little person," Briggs said. "I'm a little person."
"Hunh," Lula said. "If it was me, I'd rather be a midget. It's got a good sound to it. 'Little person' sounds like you should be in kindergarten."
Briggs was hands on hips, leaning forward. "How'd you like a punch in the nose?"
Lula looked down at him. "How'd you like my thumb in your eye?"
"I didn't know you had experience modeling lingerie," Grandma said to Lula.
"Not modeling, exactly. I got more general experience. When I was a 'ho, I was amous for accessorizing with lingerie. Everybody knew if you wanted a 'ho in nice undies, you go to Lula's corner. And another thing, I'm always reading them fashion magazines. I know how to stand. And I got a beautiful smile."
Lula smiled for us.
Grandma squinted at Lula. "Look at that. You got a gold tooth in the front. It's all sparkly under the lights. I never noticed before."
"I got it last week," Lula said. "It's got a diamond chip in it. That's what makes it sparkle."
"So if the modeling doesn't work out, you could be a pirate," Briggs said.
"It's for when I sing with Sally Sweet and his band," Lula said. "We changed our focus to rap. Sally's breakin' new ground. He's like the premier drag rapper."
Sally Sweet drives a school bus in Trenton during the day and does bar gigs on weekends. He looks like Howard Stern, and he dresses like Madonna. I had a mental picture of Sally rapping in drag, and it wasn't pretty.
"How are you doing at the video poker?" Lula asked Grandma.
"I'm not doing so good," Grandma said. "Maybe I just got to get warmed up."
"That's the way it works," Lula said. "First you got bad luck, and then you got the good luck."
My cell phone buzzed in my pocket. It was my mother.
"Where are you?" she asked.
"I'm at Daffy's in Atlantic City."
"Did you find your grandmother?"
"Yes. She's playing the slots."
"Do not leave her side. And do not put her on the bus to come home. God knows where she could end up."
"Right," I said to my mother. "No bus."
"Call me when you get on the road so I know when to expect you and your grandmother."
I disconnected and looked at Grandma hunched on her seat, back to punching the play button, and wondered if it was a felony if you kidnapped your own grandmother. I suspected it would be the only way I'd get her to go home.
"I'm going shopping," Lula said. "I gotta look good tomorrow morning for my supermodel debut. And I know this is plus-size lingerie, but maybe I should go to the gym and try to lose ten or fifteen pounds. I bet I could do it if I put my mind to it."
I looked past Lula and locked eyes with the little man in the green pants. He was openly staring, watching us from the other side of the casino floor. I crooked my finger at him in a come here gesture, and he sidestepped behind a row of slots and disappeared. I took off across the room, but couldn't find him. Lula was gone when I got back. Briggs was asleep on top of the duffel bag. And Grandma was staring at the poker machine.
"I'm not feeling so good," Grandma said. "My button finger is all swollen, and I'm sort of dizzy. I can't take the lights flashing at me anymore."
"We should go home."
"I can't go home. I gotta stay here and wait for my luck to get good. I got myself one of them high roller rooms this morning. I'm gonna take a nap."
I toed Briggs, and he jumped off the bag, eyes wide open, ready to be the wolverine.
"What?" he asked.
"Grandma wants to go to her room."
Ten minutes later, I had Grandma locked in her room with the money and Briggs standing guard outside her door.
"I'm going to check on Connie," I told Briggs. "Call me on my cell when Grandma gets up."
I walked down the hall, took the elevator to the casino floor, and found Connie still at the blackjack table. She had fifteen dollars in chips in front of her.
"This is not lucky money," Connie said. "I haven't won once... and I broke a nail."
The guy sitting next to her looked like he bludgeoned people for a living. Not that this would bother Connie, since half her family looked like this... and some for good reason.
"It was real ugly when she broke the nail," the guy said. "She used words I haven't heard since I was in the army." He leaned close to Connie. "If you want to get lucky, I could help you out."
Excerpted from PLUM LUCKY: A Stephanie Plum Between-the-Numbers Novel © Copyright 2011 by Janet Evanovich. Reprinted with permission by St. Martin’s Paperbacks. All rights reserved.