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Authors: Janet Evanovich

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BOOK: High Five
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“I find criminals.”

“Your aunt Mabel would be grateful if you'd look for Fred,” my mother said. “Maybe you could just go over and talk to her and see what you think.”

“She needs a detective,” I said. “I'm not a detective.”

“Mabel asked for you. She said she didn't want this going out of the family.”

My internal radar dish started to hum. “Is there something you're not telling me?”

“What's to tell?” my mother said. “A man wandered off from his car.”

I drank my milk and rinsed the glass. “Okay, I'll go talk to Aunt Mabel. But I'm not promising anything.”

Aunt Mabel live on Baker Street, on the fringe of the Burg, three blocks over from my parents. Their tenyear-old Pontiac station wagon was parked at the curb and just about spanned the length of their rowhouse. They've lived in the rowhouse for as long as I can remember, raising two children, entertaining five grandchildren, and annoying the hell out of each other for over fifty years.

Aunt Mabel answered my knock on her door. She was a rounder, softer version of Grandma Mazur. Her white hair was perfectly permed. She was dressed in yellow polyester slacks and a matching floral blouse. Her earrings were large clip-ons, her lipstick was a bright red, and her eyebrows were brown crayon.

“Well, isn't this nice,” Aunt Mabel said. “Come into the kitchen. I got a coffee cake from Giovichinni today. It's the good kind, with the almonds.”

Certain proprieties were observed in the Burg. No matter that your husband was kidnapped by aliens, visitors were offered coffee cake.

I followed after Aunt Mabel and waited while she cut the cake. She poured out coffee and sat opposite me at the kitchen table.

“I suppose your mother told you about your uncle Fred,” she said. “Fifty-two years of marriage, and
he's gone.”

“Did Uncle Fred have any medical problems?”

“The man was healthy as a horse.”

“How about his stroke?”

“Well, yes, but everybody has a stroke once in a while. And that stroke didn't slow him down any. Most of the time he remembered things no one else would remember. Like that business with the garbage. Who would remember a thing like that? Who would even care about it? Such a fuss over nothing.”

I knew I was going to regret asking, but I felt compelled. “What about the garbage?”

Mabel helped herself to a piece of coffee cake. “Last month there was a new driver on the garbage truck, and he skipped over our house. It only happened once, but would my husband forget a thing like that? No. Fred never forgot anything. Especially if it had to do with money. So at the end of the month Fred wanted two dollars back on account of we pay quarterly, you see, and Fred had already paid for the missed day.”

I nodded in understanding. This didn't surprise me at all. Some men played golf. Some men did crossword puzzles. Uncle Fred's hobby was being cheap.

'That was one of the things Fred was supposed to do on Friday,” Mabel said. “The garbage company was making him crazy. He went there in the morning, but they wouldn't give him his money without proof that he'd paid. Something about the computer messing up some of the accounts. So Fred was going back in the afternoon.”

For two dollars. I did a mental head slap. If I'd been the clerk Fred had talked to at the garbage company I'd have given Fred two dollars out of my own pocket just to get rid of him. “What garbage company is this?”

“RGC. The police said Fred never got there. Fred had a whole list of errands he was going to do. He was going to the cleaners, the bank, the supermarket, and RGC.”

“And you haven't heard from him.”

“Not a word. Nobody's heard anything.”

I had a feeling there wasn't going to be a happy ending to this story.

“Do you have any idea where Fred might be?”

“Everyone thinks he just wandered away, like a big dummy.”

“What do you think?”

Mabel did an up-and-down thing with her shoulders. Like she didn't know what to think. Whenever I did that, it meant I didn't want to
what I was thinking.

“If I show you something, you have to promise not to tell anyone,” Mabel said.

Oh boy.

She went to a kitchen drawer and took out a packet of pictures. “I found these in Fred's desk. I was looking for the checkbook this morning, and this is what I found.”

I stared at the first picture for at least thirty seconds before I realized what I was seeing. The print was taken in shadow and looked underexposed. The perimeter was a black plastic trash bag, and in the center of the photo was a bloody hand severed at the wrist. I thumbed through the rest of the pack. More of the same. In some the bag was spread wider, revealing more body parts. What looked like a shinbone, part of a torso maybe, something that might have been the back of the head. Hard to tell if it was man or woman.

The shock of the pictures had me holding my breath, and I was getting a buzzing sensation in my head. I didn't want to ruin my bounty-hunter image and keel over onto the floor, so I concentrated on quietly resuming breathing.

“You have to give these to the police,” I said.

Mabel gave her head a shake. “I don't know what Fred was doing with these pictures. Why would a person have pictures like this?”

No date on the front or the back. “Do you know when they were taken?

“No. This is the first I saw them.”

“Do you mind if I look through Fred's desk?”

“It's in the cellar,” Mabel said. “Fred spent a lot of time down there.”

It was a battered government-issue desk. Probably bought at a Fort Dix yard sale. It was positioned against a wall opposite the washer and dryer. And it was set on a stained piece of wall-to-wall carpet that I assumed had been saved when new carpet was laid upstairs.

I pawed through the drawers, finding the usual junk. Pencils and pens. A drawer filled with instruction booklets and warranty cards for household appliances. Another drawer devoted to old issues of
National Geographic.
The magazines were dog-eared, and I could see Fred down here, escaping from Mabel, reading about the vanishing rain forests of Borneo.

A canceled RGC check had been carefully placed under a paperweight. Fred had probably made a copy to take with him and had left the original here.

There are parts of the country where people trust banks to keep their checks and to simply forward computer-generated statements each month. The Burg isn't one of those places. Residents of the Burg aren't that trusting of computers or banks. Residents of the Burg like paper. My relatives hoard canceled checks like Scrooge McDuck hoards quarters.

I didn't see any more photos of dead bodies. And I couldn't find any notes or sales receipts that might be connected to the pictures.

“You don't suppose Fred killed this person, do you?” Mabel asked.

I didn't know what I supposed. What I knew was that I was very creeped out. “Fred didn't seem like the sort of person to do something like this,” I told Mabel. “Would you like me to pass these on to the police for you?”

“If you think that's the right thing to do.”

Without a shadow of a doubt.

I had phone calls to make, and my parents' house was closer than my apartment and less expensive than using my cell phone, so I rumbled back to Roosevelt Street.

“How'd it go?” Grandma asked, rushing into the foyer to meet me.

“It went okay.”

“You gonna take the case?”

“It's not a case. It's a missing person. Sort of.”

“You're gonna have a devil of a time finding him if it was aliens,” Grandma said.

I dialed the central dispatch number for the Trenton Police Department and asked for Eddie Gazarra. Gazarra and I grew up together, and now he was married to my cousin Shirley the Whiner. He was a good friend, a good cop, and a good source for police information.

“You need something,” Gazarra said.

“Hello to you, too.”

“Am I wrong?”

“No. I need some details on a recent investigation.”

“I can't give you that kind of stuff.”

“Of course you can,” I said. “Anyway, this is about Uncle Fred.”

“The missing Uncle Fred?”

“That's the one.”

“What do you want to know?”


“Hold on.”

He was back on the line a couple minutes later, and I could hear him leafing through papers. “It says here Fred was reported missing on Friday, which is technically too early for a missing person, but we always keep our eyes open anyway. Especially with old folks. Sometimes they're out there wandering around looking for the road to Oz.”

“You think that's what Fred's doing? Looking for Oz?”

“Hard to say. Fred's car was found in the Grand Union parking lot. The car was locked up. No sign of forced entry. No sign of struggle. No sign of theft. There was dry cleaning laid out on the backseat.”

“Anything else in the car? Groceries?”

“Nope. No groceries.”

“So he got to the dry cleaner but not the supermarket.”

“I have a chronology of events here,” Gazarra said. “Fred left his house at one o'clock, right after he ate lunch. Next stop that we know of was the bank, First Trenton Trust. Their records show he withdrew two hundred dollars from the automatic teller in the lobby at two thirty-five. The cleaner, next to Grand Union in the same strip mall, said Fred picked his cleaning up around two forty-five. And that's all we have.”

“There's an hour missing. It takes ten minutes to get from the Burg to Grand Union and First Trenton.”

“Don't know,” Gazarra said. “He was supposed to go to RGC Waste Haulers, but RGC says he never showed up.”

“Thanks, Eddie.”

“If you want to return the favor, I could use a baby-sitter Saturday night.”

Gazarra could always use a baby-sitter. His kids were cute but death on baby-sitters.

“Gee, Eddie, I'd love to help you out, but Saturday's a bad day. I promised somebody I'd do something on Saturday.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Listen, Gazarra, last time I baby-sat for your kids they cut two inches off my hair.”

“You shouldn't have fallen asleep. What were you doing sleeping on the job, anyway?”

“It was one in the morning!”

My next call was to Joe Morelli. Joe Morelli is a plainclothes cop who has skills not covered in the policeman's handbook. A couple months ago, I let him into my life and my bed. A couple weeks ago, I kicked him out. We'd seen each other several times since then on chance encounters and arranged dinner dates. The chance encounters were always warm. The dinner dates took the temperature up a notch and more often than not involved loud talking, which I called a discussion and Morelli called a fight.

None of these meetings had ended in the bedroom. When you grow up in the Burg there are several mantras little girls learn at an early age. One of them is that men don't buy goods they can get for free. Those words of wisdom hadn't stopped me from giving my goods away to Morelli, but they
stop me from
to give them away. That plus a false pregnancy scare. Although I have to admit, I had mixed feelings about not being pregnant. There was a smidgen of regret mixed with the relief. And probably it was the regret more than the relief that made me take a more serious look at my life and my relationship with Morelli. That and the realization that Morelli and I don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. Not that we'd entirely given up on the relationship. It was more that we were in a holding pattern with each of us staking out territory . . . not unlike the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I tried Morelli's home phone, office number, and car phone. No luck. I left messages everywhere and left my cell phone number on his pager.

“Well, what did you find out?” Grandma wanted to know when I hung up.

“Not much. Fred left the house at one, and a little over an hour later he was at the bank and the cleaner. He must have done something in that time, but I don't know what.”

My mother and my grandmother looked at each other.

“What?” I asked. “What?”

“He was probably taking care of some personal business,” my mother said. “You don't want to bother yourself with it.”

“What's the big secret?”

Another exchange of looks between my mother and grandmother.

“There's two kinds of secrets,” Grandma said. “One kind is where nobody knows the secret. And the other kind is where everybody knows the secret, but
not to know the secret. This is the second kind of secret.”


“It's about his honeys,” Grandma said.

“His honeys?”

“Fred always has a honey on the side,” Grandma said. “Should have been a politician.”

“You mean Fred has affairs? He's in his seventies!”

“Midlife crisis,” Grandma said.

“Seventy isn't midlife,” I said. “Forty is midlife.”

Grandma slid her uppers around some. “Guess it depends how long you intend to live.”

I turned to my mother. “You knew about this?”

My mother took a couple deli bags of cold cuts out of the refrigerator and emptied them on a plate. “The man's been a philanderer all his life. I don't know how Mabel's put up with it.”

“Booze,” Grandma said.

I made myself a liverwurst sandwich and took it to the table. “Do you think Uncle Fred might have run off with one of his girlfriends?”

“More likely one of their husbands picked Fred up and drove him to the landfill,” Grandma said. “I can't see cheapskate Fred paying for the cleaning if he was going to run off with one of his floozies.”

“You have any idea who he was seeing?”

BOOK: High Five
9.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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