He stood and turned and bumped into me.
Youre going to leave, arent you? I said. I bet youre going to go out the back door and go home and never come back.
Its a recurring fantasy, he said.
I glanced at my watch. It was twelve-thirty. Have you had lunch? I asked him.
Take your lunch now and come with me, and Ill buy you a piece of pizza.
Theres something wrong with this picture, Pickle said. Are you one of those religious nuts who wants to save me?
No. Im not a religious nut. I held my hand out. Stephanie Plum.
He automatically shook my hand. Melvin Pickle.
I work for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds, I said. You missed a court date, and you need to reschedule.
Sure, he said.
I cant go now. I gotta work. You can take your lunch break.
I had plans for lunch.
Probably going to see a movie. I was still holding his hand, and with my other hand I clapped a bracelet on him. He looked down at the cuff. Whats this? You cant do this. People will ask questions. And then what will I tell them? Ill have to tell them Im a pervert!
Two women looked over at him and raised their eyebrows. No one will care, I said. I turned to the women. You dont care, right?
Right, they murmured and hurried out of the store. Just walk out into the mall quietly with me, I said. Ill take you to court and get you rebonded.
Actually Vinnie would rebond him. Vinnie and Connie could write bond. Lula and I did the capture thing. Darn, Pickle said. Darn it all.
And he took off with the cuff dangling from his wrist. Lula stepped in front of him, but he had momentum and knocked her on her ass. He faltered for a moment, got his footing and ran off, into the mall. I was ten steps behind him. I stumbled over Lula, scrambled to my feet, and kept going. I chased him through the mall and up an escalator. A hotel with an open atrium was attached to one end of the mall. Pickle ran into the hotel and barreled through the fire door into the stairwell. I chased him up five flights of stairs and thought my lungs were going to explode. He exited the stairwell, and I dragged myself, gasping, to the door.
There were seven floors in the hotel. All rooms opened to a hallway that overlooked the hotel atrium. We were on the sixth floor. I staggered out of the stairwell and saw that Pickle had made it halfway around the atrium and was straddling the balcony railing.
Dont come near me, he yelled. Ill jump.
Fine with me, I said. I get my money dead or alive.
Pickle looked depressed at that fact. Or maybe Pickle just always looked depressed.
Youre in pretty good shape, I said, still winded. How do you stay in such good shape?
My car got repossessed. I walk everywhere. And all day long Im up and down with the shoes. At the end of the day my knees are killing me.
I was talking to him, creeping closer. Why dont you get a different job? One t hats easier on your knees.
Are you kidding me? Im lucky to have this job. Look at me. Im a loser. And now everybodys going to know Im a pervert. Im a pervert loser. And I have a big herpes. Im a pervert loser with a herpes!
You need to get a grip. You dont have to be a pervert loser if you dont want to be.
Excerpted from Twelve Sharp, copyright (c) 2006, Janet Ivanovich. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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