"FTA" is bounty-hunter-speak for "failure to appear." Usually I'm happy to hear someone has failed to appear, because it means I get to earn money by coaxing them back into the system. In this case, there was no money to be had, because if Ranger didn't want to be found, he wasn't going to be found. End of discussion.
Ranger is a bounty hunter, like me. Only Ranger is good. He's close to my age, give or take a few years; he's Cuban-American; and I'm pretty sure he only kills bad guys. Two weeks ago some idiot rookie cop arrested Ranger on carrying concealed without a license. Every other cop in Trenton knows Ranger and knows he carries concealed, and they're perfectly happy to have it that way. But no one told the new guy. So Ranger was busted and scheduled to go before the judge yesterday for a slap on the wrist. In the meantime, Vinnie sprung Ranger with a nice chunk of money, and now Vinnie was feeling lonely, high off the ground, out there on a limb all by himself. First Carol. Now Ranger. Not a good way to start a Tuesday.
"There's something wrong with this picture," I said. It made my heart feel leaden in my chest, because there were people out there who wouldn't mind seeing Ranger disappear forever. And his disappearance would make a very large hole in my life.
"It's not like Ranger to ignore his court date. Or to ignore his page."
Lula and Connie exchanged glances.
"You know that big fire they had downtown on Sunday?" Connie said. "Turns out the building is owned by Alexander Ramos."
Alexander Ramos deals guns, regulating the flow of black market arms from his summer compound on the Jersey shore and his winter fortress in Athens. Two of his three adult sons live in the United States, one in Santa Barbara, the other in Hunterdon County. The third son lives in Rio. None of this is privileged information. The Ramos family has made the cover of Newsweek four times. People have speculated for years that Ranger has tics to Ramos, but the exact nature of those ties has always been unknown. Ranger is a master of keeping things unknown.
"And?" I asked.
"And when they could finally go through the building yesterday they found Ramos's youngest son, Homer, barbecued in a third-floor office. Besides being toasted, he also had a large bullet hole in his head."
"And Ranger's wanted for questioning. The police were here just a few minutes ago, looking for him."
"Why do they want Ranger?"
Connie did a palms-up.
"Anyway, he's skipped," Vinnie said, "and you're gonna bring him in."
My voice involuntarily rose an octave. "What, are you crazy? I'm not going after Ranger!"
"That's the beauty of it," Vinnie said. "You don't have to go after him. He'll come to you. He's got a thing for you."
"No! No way. Forget it."
"Fine," Vinnie said, "you don't want the job, I'll put Joyce on it."
Joyce Barnhardt is my archenemy. Ordinarily, I'd eat dirt before I'd give anything up to Joyce. In this case, Joyce could take it. Let her spend her time spinning her wheels, looking for the invisible man.
"So what else have you got?" I asked Connie.
"Two minors and a real stinker." She passed three folders over to me. "Since Ranger isn't available I'm going to have to give the stinker to you."
I flipped the top file open. Morris Munson. Arrested for vehicular manslaughter. "Could be worse," I said. "Could be a homicidal rapist."
"You didn't read down far enough," Connie said. "After this guy ran over the victim, who just happened to be his ex-wife, he beat her with a tire iron, raped her, and tried to set her on fire. He was charged with vehicular manslaughter because according to the M.E. she was already dead when he took the tire iron to her. He had her soaked in gasoline and was trying to get his Bic to work when a blue-and-white happened to drive by."
Copyright © 2000 Evanovich, Inc.. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the publisher, St Martins Press
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