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Three to Get Deadly: A Stephanie Plum Novelby Janet Evanovich
I'm looking for Uncle Mo," I said. "I expected he'd be working in the store."
Dorothy shifted the baby. "He hasn't been here for two days. You aren't looking for him for Vinnie, are you?"
"Actually . . ."
"Mo would never do anything wrong."
"Well, sure, but . . ."
"We're just trying to find him on account of he won the lottery," Lula said. "We're gonna lay a whole load of money on his ass."
Dorothy made a disgusted sound and slammed the door closed.
We tried the house next to Dorothy and received the same information. Mo hadn't been at the store for two days. Nothing else was forthcoming, with the exception of some unsolicited advice that I might consider seeking new employment.
Lula and I piled into the Buick and took another look at the bond agreement. Mo listed his address as 605 Ferris. That meant he lived over his store.
Lula and I craned our necks to see into the four second-story windows.
"I think Mo took a hike," Lula said.
Only one way to find out. We got out of the car and walked to the back of the brick building where outdoor stairs led to a second-story porch. We climbed the stairs and knocked on the door. Nothing. We tried the doorknob. Locked. We looked in the windows. Everything was tidy. No sign of Mo. No lights left burning.
"Mo might be dead in there," Lula said. "Or maybe he's sick. Could of had a stroke and be laying on the bathroom floor."
"We are not going to break in."
"Would be a humanitarian effort," Lula said.
"And against the law."
"Sometimes these humanitarian efforts go into the gray zone."
I heard footsteps and looked down to see a cop standing at the bottom of the stairs. Steve Olmney. I'd gone to school with him.
"What's going on?" he asked. "We got a complaint from old lady Steeger that someone suspicious was snooping around Uncle Mo's."
"That would be me," I said.
"We think he might be dead," Lula said. "We think someone better go look to see if he's had a stroke on the bathroom floor."
Olmney came up the stairs and rapped on the door. "Mo?" he yelled. He put his nose to the door. "Doesn't smell dead." He looked in the windows. "Don't see any bodies."
"He's Failure to Appear," I said. "Got picked up on carrying concealed and didn't show in court."
"Mo would never do anything wrong," Olmney said.
I stifled a scream. "Not showing up for a court appearance is wrong."
"Probably he forgot. Maybe he's on vacation. Or maybe his sister in Staten Island got sick. You should check with his sister."
Actually, that sounded like a decent idea.
Lula and I went back to the Buick, and I read through the bond agreement one more time. Sure enough, Mo had listed his sister and given her address.
"We should split up," I said to Lula. "I'll go see the sister, and you can stake out the store."
"I'll stake it out good," Lula said. "I won't miss a thing."
I turned the key in the ignition and pulled away from the curb. "What will you do if you see Mo?"
"I'll snatch the little fucker up by his gonads and squash him into the trunk of my car."
"No! You're not authorized to apprehend. If you see Mo, you should get in touch with me right away. Either call me on my cellular phone or else call my pager." I gave her a card with my numbers listed.
"Remember, no squashing anyone into the trunk of your car!"
"Sure," Lula said. "I know that."
I dropped Lula at the office and headed for Route 1. It was the middle of the day and traffic was light. I got to Perth Amboy and lined up for the bridge to Staten Island. The roadside leading to the toll booth was littered with mufflers, eaten away from winter salt and rattled loose by the inescapable craters, sinkholes and multilevel strips of macadam patch that composed the bridge.
I slipped into bridge traffic and sat nose to tail with Petrucci's Vegetable Wholesalers and a truck labeled DANGEROUS EXPLOSIVES. I checked a map while I waited. Mo's sister lived toward the middle of the island in a residential area I knew to be similar to the burg.
I paid my toll and inched forward, sucking in a stew of diesel exhaust and other secret ingredients that caught me in the back of the throat. I adjusted to the pollution in less than a quarter of a mile and felt just fine when I reached Mo's sister's house on Crane Street. Adaptation is one of the great advantages to being born and bred in Jersey. We're simply not bested by bad air or tainted water. We're like that catfish with lungs. Take us out of our environment and we can grow whatever body parts we need to survive. After Jersey the rest of the country's a piece of cake. You want to send someone into a fallout zone? Get him from Jersey. He'll be fine.
Mo's sister lived in a pale green duplex with jalousied windows and white-and-yellow aluminum awnings. I parked at the curb and made my way up two flights of cement stairs to the cement stoop. I rang the bell and found myself facing a woman who looked a lot like my relatives on the Mazur side of my family. Good sturdy Hungarian stock Black hair, black eyebrows and no-nonsense blue eyes. She looked to be in her fifties and didn't seem thrilled to find me on her doorstep.
I gave her my card, introduced myself and told her I was looking for Mo.
Her initial reaction was surprise, then distrust.
"Fugitive apprehension agent," she said. "What's that supposed to mean? What's that got to do with Mo?"
I gave the condensed version by way of explanation. "I'm sure it was just an oversight that Mo didn't appear for his court session, but I need to remind him to reschedule," I told her.
"I don't know anything about this," she said. "I don't see Mo a whole lot. He's always at the store. Why don't you just go to the store."
"He hasn't been at the store for the last two days."
"That doesn't sound like Mo."
None of this sounded like Mo.
I asked if there were other relatives. She said no, not close ones. I asked about a second apartment or vacation house. She said none that she knew of.
I thanked her for her time and returned to my Buick. I looked out at the neighborhood. Not much happening. Mo's sister was locked up in her house. Probably wondering what the devil was going on with Mo. Of course there was the possibility that she was protecting her brother, but my gut instinct said otherwise. She'd seemed genuinely surprised when I'd told her Mo wasn't behind the counter handing out Gummi Bears.
I could watch the house, but that sort of surveillance was tedious and time-consuming, and in this case, I wasn't sure it would be worth the effort.
Besides, I was getting a weird feeling about Mo. Responsible people like Mo didn't forget court dates. Responsible people like Mo worried about that kind of stuff. They lost sleep over it. They consulted attorneys. And responsible people like Mo didn't just up and leave their businesses without so much as a sign in the window.
Maybe Lula was right. Maybe Mo was dead in bed or lying unconscious on his bathroom floor.
I got out of the car and retraced my steps back to the sister's front door.
The door was opened before I had a chance to knock. Two little frown lines had etched themselves into Mo's sister's forehead. "Was there something else?" she asked.
"I'm concerned about Mo. I don't mean to alarm you, but I suppose there's the possibility that he might be sick at home and unable to get to the door."
"I've been standing here thinking the same thing," she said.
"Do you have a key to his apartment?"
"No, and as far as I know no one else does, either. Mo likes his privacy."
"Do you know any of his friends? Did he have a girlfriend?"
"Sorry. We aren't real close like that. Mo is a good brother, but like I said, he's private."
Copyright © 1997 by Janet Evanovich
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