I followed the sidewalk to the porch which had been carpeted in green indoor-outdoor carpet and rang the Kuntz doorbell. The door opened and a sweaty, muscle-bulging, half-naked man looked out at me. "What?"
I passed him my business card. "Stephanie Plum. I'm a bond enforcement officer, and I'm looking for Maxine Nowicki. I was hoping you could help me."
"You bet I can help you. She took my car. Can you believe it?" He jerked his stubbled chin toward the curb. "That's it right there. Lucky for her she didn't scratch it up. The cops picked her up driving through town in it, and they brought the car back to me."
I glanced back at the car. A white Chevy Blazer. Freshly washed. I almost was tempted to steal it myself.
"You were living together?"
"Well, yeah, for awhile. About four months. And then we had this disagreement, and next thing I know, she's gone with my car. It wasn't that I wanted her arrested ...it was just that I wanted my car back. That was why I called the police. I wanted my car."
"Do you have any idea where she might be now?"
"No. I tried to get in touch with her to sort of patch things up, but I couldn't find her. She quit her job at the diner and nobody's seen her. I stopped around her apartment a couple times, and there was never anybody home. I tried calling her mother. I called a couple of her girl friends. No one seems to know anything. I guess they could have been lying to me, but I don't think so." He winked at me. "Women don't lie to me, you know what I mean?" "No," I said. "I don't know what you mean."
"Well, I don't like to brag, but I have a way with women."
"Uh huh." Must be the pungent aroma they find so attractive. Or maybe the overdeveloped, steroid pumped muscles that made him look like he needed a bra. Or maybe it was the way he couldn't conduct a conversation without scratching his balls.
"So what can I do for you?" Kuntz asked.
Half an hour later I left with a list of Maxine's friends and relatives. I knew where Maxine banked, bought her booze, shopped for groceries, dry-cleaned her clothes and had her hair done. Kuntz promised to call me if he heard from Maxine, and I'd promised to reciprocate in kind if I turned up anything interesting. Of course, I'd had my fingers crossed when I'd made the promise. I suspected Eddie Kuntz's way with women was to make them run screaming in the opposite direction.
He stood on the porch and watched me angle into my car.
"Cute," he called. "I like when a chick drives a sporty little car."
I sent him a smile that felt a lot like a grimace and peeled away from the curb. I'd gotten the CRX in February, sucked in by a shiny new paint job and an odometer that read 12,000 miles. Cherry condition, the owner had said. Hardly ever driven. And that was partly true. It was hardly ever driven with the odometer cable connected. Not that it mattered. The price had been right, and I looked good in the driver's seat. I'd recently developed a dime sized lesion on my exhaust pipe, but if I played Metallica loud enough I could hardly hear the muffler noise. I might have thought twice about buying the car if I'd known Eddie Kuntz thought it was cute.
My first stop was the Silver Dollar Diner. Maxine had worked there for seven years and had listed no other source of income. The Silver Dollar was open twenty-four hours. It served good food in generous portions and was always packed with overweight people and penny pinching seniors. The families of fatties cleaned their plates, and the seniors took leftovers home in doggy bags ...butter pats, baskets of rolls, packets of sugar, half-eaten pieces of deep fried haddock, coleslaw, fruit cup, grease-logged french fries. A senior could eat for three days off one meal at the Silver Dollar.
Copyright © 1998 by Evanovich, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of St. Martin's Press, Inc.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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