I knew something bad was going to happen when Vinnie called me into his private office. Vinnie is my boss and my cousin. I read on a bathroom stall door once that Vinnie humps like a ferret. I'm not sure what that means, but it seems reasonable since Vinnie looks like a ferret. His ruby pinky ring reminded me of treasures found in Seaside Park arcade claw-machines. He was wearing a black shirt and black tie, his receding black hair was slicked back, casino pit boss style. His facial expression was tuned to not happy.
I looked across the desk at him and tried not to grimace. "Now what?"
"I got a job for you," Vinnie said. "I want you to find that ratfink Eddie DeChooch, and I want you to drag his boney ass back here. He got tagged smuggling a truckload of bootleg cigarettes up from Virginia and he missed his court date."
I rolled my eyes so far into the top of my head I could see hair growing. "I'm not going after Eddie DeChooch. He's old, and he kills people, and he's dating my grandmother."
"He hardly ever kills people anymore," Vinnie said. "He has cataracts. Last time he tried to shoot someone he emptied a clip into an ironing board."
Vinnie owns and operates Vincent Plum Bail Bonds in Trenton, New Jersey. When someone is accused of a crime, Vinnie gives the court a cash bond, the court releases the accused until trial, and Vinnie hopes to God the accused shows up for court. If the accused decides to forgo the pleasure of his court date, Vinnie is out a lot of money unless I can find the accused and bring him back into the system. My name is Stephanie Plum and I'm a bond enforcement officer ... aka bounty hunter. I took the job when times were lean and not even the fact that I graduated in the top ninety-eight percent of my college class could get me a better position. The economy has since improved and there's no good reason why I'm still tracking down bad guys except that it annoys my mother and I don't have to wear panty hose to work.
"I'd give this to Ranger, but he's out of the country," Vinnie said. "So that leaves you."
Ranger is a soldier of fortune kind of guy who sometimes works as a bounty hunter. He's very good ... at everything. And he's scary as hell. "What's Ranger doing out of the country? And what do you mean by out of the country? Asia? South America? Miami?"
"He's making a pickup for me in Puerto Rico." Vinnie shoved a file folder across his desk. "Here's the bond agreement on DeChooch and your authorization to capture. He's worth fifty thousand to me ... five thousand to you. Go over to DeChooch's house and find out why he pulled a no-show on his hearing yesterday. Connie called and there was no answer. Christ, he could be dead on his kitchen floor. Going out with your grandma's enough to kill anyone."
Vinnie's office is on Hamilton, which at first glance might not seem like the best location for a bail bonds office. Most bail bonds offices are across from the jail. The difference with Vinnie is that many of the people he bonds out are either relatives or neighbors and live just off Hamilton in the Burg. I grew up in the Burg and my parents still live there. It's really a very safe neighborhood as Burg criminals are always careful to do their crimes elsewhere. Well okay, Jimmy Curtains once walked Two Toes Garibaldi out of his house in his pajamas and drove him to the landfill ... but still, the actual whacking didn't take place in the Burg. And the guys they found buried in the basement of the candy store on Ferris Street weren't from the Burg so you can't really count them as a statistic.
Connie Rosolli looked up when I came out of Vinnie's office. Connie is the office manager. Connie keeps things running while Vinnie is off springing miscreants and/or fornicating with barnyard animals. Connie had her hair teased up to about three times the size of her head. She was wearing a pink V-neck sweater that molded to boobs that belonged on a much larger woman and a short black knit skirt that would have fit a much smaller woman.
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