TRIGGER HAPPY TWENTY-THREE: A STEPHANIE PLUM-INSPIRED NOVEL
I went home to find the mouth breather had left five messages since I had been there in the early afternoon. Since I also got a telemarketing call after the breathing messages, I could not reverse call to find out the phone number.
Rex was running on his hamster wheel, getting nowhere. I didn't see the point, although I have to admit there are times when I also felt like I was running on a hamster wheel. I said "hi" to Rex and gave him some hamster crunchies and a raisin, and changed his water. Rex stopped running and hopped off his wheel, went and stuffed the raisin in his mouth, and scurried off to his soup can to enjoy his bounty. He's like me. He prefers dessert over healthy food.
After feeding Rex, I got ready for bed and went to sleep. A couple of hours later, the phone rang. I picked it up, almost dropping it in my sleep-stupefied state. There was only breathing on the line. "Why do you keep calling me?" I asked.
"Steph – an – nie", the man said in a low, creepy voice. He was obviously trying to disguise his voice, and was doing it well enough that I was not able to identify him. But he sounded so ridiculous on the phone I had to struggle not to laugh.
"Do-I-know-you?" I asked in a similar creepy voice.
"Yes." And he hung up.
I thought that was weird. Not really creepy, but weird. I hung up, gave a little chuckle, rolled over and went back to sleep. For fifteen minutes. That was how long it took for the breather to call back. "Steph-an-nie", he said.
"Can you give me a hint as to who you are?" I asked.
"No." And he hung up.
I tried reverse calling, but the number was blocked and I could not tell who was calling me. I tried blocking the number, but I didn't have that calling feature on my phone. Instead, I had four more calls over the next hour and a half. I no longer found the voice funny, and had to take the phone off the hook before I could finally fall back to sleep.
Because of the broken night's sleep, I was late getting going in the morning. I rushed through my shower, blasted my hair with the hair dryer, gunked up my eyelashes with mascara, got dressed, poured a cup of coffee in me and shoved in a banana muffin, and ran out the door, all in twenty-five minutes. I phoned Bucky's to see if he had been able to look at the Accord. He had. I drove first to the mechanic's to pay him and to talk to Bucky about his findings.
"It's a good car – not too much rust. I'm not sure how well the air conditioner will work in the summer – it may need to be recharged – but the heat seemed to work well and the windows are reliable in powering down. It passed its safety inspection. The timing belt will need replaced in the near future, and the brakes have a few miles left on them. When they need to be done next – probably at the next oil change – both the rotors and the pads will need to be replaced. How much are you paying for it?" I told him, and he nodded his head. "I think that is a good price for the car. I think it will serve you well, at least until you blow this one up." He smiled, but I knew he was serious. Getting blown up is an occupational hazard for my cars.
Hearing the good news about the car, I drove to the bank to withdraw the money to buy it. I went up to the counter and saw Lorna, an old friend of mine from high school. I explained that I was buying a new car. "Did your last one get blown up again?" she asked. I nodded my head. It had exploded, although the hundred bullet holes in the car before it blew up was really what had incapacitated it. The explosion was an unfortunate accident after the fact.
I then drove home to hide the money under my mattress. I didn't want to take the chance that the money would drop out of my purse or that I would lose it at some point during the day. Call me a worrier, but these are the kind of thoughts that go through my head.
After taking care of car-buying business, I drove to the bonds office and parked at the back of the building. I entered the office and saw Lula bent over a file drawer, ass in the air as she filed case files in alphabetical order. At that angle and with the revealing nature of the clothing she had chosen to wear – it must have been part of her business woman collection left over from her 'ho days – she was flashing Connie a view of the full moon and I could see clear down the front of her shirt to her belly button. I was so stunned to see her doing her job that I stopped and stared, mouth open in amazement.
As office file clerk, Lula's job was to put away all the case files. But in reality, Lula was the worst file clerk ever. Her main claim to the job was that she was able to tolerate Vinnie and his sexual proclivities. That made her better than any previous file clerk that the office had. Instead of filing though, she spent most of her time either helping me or reading gossip magazines. I looked at Connie and asked what the special occasion was.
"Lula's work anniversary is coming up. She wants Vinnie to give her a bonus, so she is trying to catch up on weeks of filing this afternoon", Connie said.
I looked at Lula. "Does this mean that you don't want to go out to find skips?" I asked.
"Shee-it, girl, you know that I would love to. But I need to do this here filing. Can you do the skip-chasing yourself today? My review is tomorrow morning, so I will be available to go looking for skips tomorrow afternoon."
"That's a date", I said. "Can you help me tonight? I am buying a car. I need to drop off Ranger's car at Rangeman and then get a ride over to the seller's house so that I can pick up the car. Would you mind doing the driving?"
"No problemo." We made arrangements for me to call Lula after dinner when I would need a ride, and I left to go home to phone Connie's relatives.
When I got home there were three more messages with "Steph-an-nie" said in that pseudo-creepy voice. The harassment was getting old. I wanted to know who was leaving messages for me. There were three people that I was actively chasing – Paulo Rosolli, Michael Minetti, and Pete Brodie. I thought about the voice but could not place it. It could be any one of those guys. Or it could be someone from my past. There were a lot of people I had caught previously who might not be too pleased with me.
I gave up trying to place the voice and turned my attention to phoning the Rosolli family members. After several hours, I had talked to everyone in the family. However, despite my threats that Connie could lose her job if Paulo did not come forward, I was not able to get anyone to help me in my search. It appeared as though Paulo had fallen off the face of the earth.
I made a ham and Swiss sandwich for dinner and washed it down with a glass of water. Once I had eaten I grabbed the money from under my mattress and phoned Tank to let him know I would be returning Ranger's car.
I went up to Ranger's apartment, keyed myself in, and dropped the keys to his Cayenne on the silver tray at the front door. I took a deep breath and smelled the lingering scent of Bulgari Green. A rush went through me, straight down to my girl bits. My girl bits started to tingle. I decided I better leave quickly, before I found myself sniffing Ranger's sheets and forgetting about Morelli.
I left the apartment, locked up, and headed down to the lobby to wait for Lula. Tank came down to talk to me. "Let me know when you pick up your new car. I will need to know its plate number and make – I will have someone put a GPS tracker in the car tonight." I thought a number of things upon hearing that. I considered giving Tank incorrect information so he tracked the wrong person. That would be fun. And I considered not calling Tank at all. Either way would just result in Rangeman correcting the mistake without my knowledge though, and nothing would be accomplished. Besides, as invasive as I sometimes found this intrusion on my privacy, it had also been a benefit at times. If my tracking device goes off the grid, I know I can always count on Rangeman to come and help me.
"What colour is your new car?" Tank asked.
"Black", I said.
Tank smiled. All Ranger's cars were black. "Good choice", he said.
Lula arrived to pick me up. "Remember to call me", called out Tank as I was getting into the car.
Lula drove me to the owner's house to pick up the car. She looked the car over as we walked up the driveway. "This one is a pretty good one", she said. "It doesn't really have no rust on it either. It won't be embarrassing to ride in this one. Not as good as the Cayenne, mind you, and really not as good as my Firebird. But it looks better than the car that you had last year that used to be a pizza delivery truck. Riding in that car always made me hungry. And what about the one that had been confiscated during a drug bust? It always smelled like weed. It made me hungry all the time too. But this one looks pretty good. I really hope you don't blow this one up."
Finishing the transaction with the car owner, I grabbed the keys and drove to Morelli's house. At the curb outside his house was his mother's car. I decided not to go in. If his mother was there, that meant Grandma Bella was also there. I don't have anything against Mrs. Morelli, but Grandma Bella was someone who was feared by many. An ancient Italian woman with small beady black eyes, gray hair, a sharp nose and chin whiskers, she was purported to have the power to curse people. This power is called the "eye". The "eye" can do terrible things such as cause all your hair to fall out, make your period last for months, or make you lose your job. Grandma Bella hated me, and as such I was the recipient of the eye quite frequently. I didn't feel like getting cursed today, though, so I decided to go home. I was in a good mood about my new car and I didn't want to burst the bubble.
I got to my building and walked up the stairs to my apartment. Letting myself in, I walked over to Rex's cage to say "hi". I then listened to my messages. There were two breathing messages and one from our local charity shop asking for donations. There were also four "Steph-an-nie" messages. I shook my head. I hoped that I wouldn't have another night where I had to take the phone off the hook.
I phoned Tank and gave him the information he wanted about my new car. He asked me where I was staying overnight and said that he would have the GPS tracker installed while I slept. I then phoned Morelli. As he picked up the phone I could hear people talking and yelling at each other in the background. The dog was barking and it sounded like bedlam. Morelli still had company. I told him I had gone by his house, but when I saw he had company I decided not to stop. "Chicken", he said. He knew my aversion to visiting with Grandma Bella.
"Their house is getting painted. They don't want to live there at the same time, in all the fumes, so they called me and asked me today whether they could come to stay with me. I couldn't say no. They will be here for the next week", he said.
"I guess this means that you won't be able to stay over here as well?"
"Sorry, Cupcake. There will be no overnighters until my parents and grandmother leave." That was a real bummer to me, as I was ready to have an overnighter.