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Explosive Eighteen

By´╝ÜJanet Evanovich

ONE



NEW JERSEY WAS 40,000 FEET below me, obscured by cloud cover. Heaven was above me, beyond the thin skin of the plane. And hell was sitting four rows back. Okay, maybe hell was too strong. Maybe it was just purgatory.

My name is Stephanie Plum, and I work as a bail-bonds enforcer for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds in Trenton, New Jersey. I’d recently inherited airline vouchers from a dead guy and used them to take a once-in-a-lifetime Hawaiian vacation. Unfortunately, the vacation didn’t go as planned, and I’d been forced to leave Hawaii ahead of schedule, like a thief sneaking off in the dead of night. I’d abandoned two angry men in Honolulu, called my friend Lula, and asked her to pick me up at Newark Airport.

As if my life wasn’t enough in the toilet, I was now on the plane home, seated four rows ahead of a guy who looked like Sasquatch and was snoring like a bear in a cave. Good thing I wasn’t sitting next to him, because I surely would have strangled him in his sleep by now. I was wearing airline-distributed earphones pumped up to maximum volume, but they weren’t helping. The snoring had started somewhere over Denver and got really ugly over Kansas City. After several loud passenger comments suggesting someone take the initiative and smother the guy, flight attendants confiscated all the pillows and began passing out free alcoholic beverages. Three-quarters of the plane was now desperately drunk, and the remaining quarter was either underage or alternatively medicated. Two of the underage were screaming-crying, and I was pretty sure the kid behind me had pooped in his pants.

I was among the drunk. I was wondering how I was going to walk off the plane and navigate the terminal with any sort of dignity, and I was hoping my ride was waiting for me.

Sasquatch gave an extra loud snork, and I ground my teeth together. Just land this friggin’ plane, I thought. Land it in a cornfield, on a highway, in the ocean. Just get me out of here!

• • •





Lula pulled into my apartment building parking lot, and I thanked her for picking me up at the airport and bringing me home.

“No problemo,” she said, dropping me at the back door to the lobby. “There wasn’t nothing on television, and I’m between honeys, so it wasn’t like I was leaving anything good behind.”

I waved her off and trudged into my apartment building. I took the elevator to the second floor, dragged my luggage down the hall and into my apartment, and shuffled into my bedroom.

It was after midnight, and I was exhausted. My vacation in Hawaii had been unique, and the flight home had been hellish. Turbulence over the Pacific, a layover in L.A., and the snoring. I closed my eyes and tried to calm myself. I was back to work tomorrow, but for now I had to make a choice. I was completely out of clean clothes. That meant I could be a slut and sleep naked, or I could be a slob and sleep in what I was wearing.

Truth is, I’m not entirely comfortable sleeping naked. I do it from time to time, but I worry that God might be watching or that my mother might find out, and I’m pretty sure they both think nice girls should wear pajamas to bed.

In this case, being a slob required less effort, and that’s where I chose to go.

Unfortunately, I was in the same wardrobe predicament when I dragged myself out of bed the next morning, so I emptied my suitcase into my laundry basket, grabbed the messenger bag that serves as a purse, and headed for my parents’ house. I could use my mom’s washer and dryer, and I thought I had some emergency clothes left in their spare bedroom. Plus, they’d been babysitting my hamster, Rex, while I was away, and I wanted to retrieve him.

I live in a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment in an aging three-story brick-faced apartment building located on the edge of Trenton. On a good traffic day, at four in the morning, it’s a ten-minute drive to my parents’ house or the bonds office. All other times, it’s a crapshoot.

Grandma Mazur was at the front door when I pulled to the curb and parked. She’s lived with my parents since Grandpa Mazur took the big escalator to the heavenly food court in the sky. Sometimes I think my father wouldn’t mind seeing Grandma step onto that very same escalator, but I can’t see it happening anytime soon. Her steel-gray hair was cut short and tightly curled on her head. Her nails matched her bright red lipstick. Her lavender-and-white running suit hung slack on her bony shoulders.

“What a good surprise,” Grandma said, opening the door to me. “Welcome home. We’re dying to hear all about the vacation with the hottie.”

My parents’ home is a modest duplex, sharing a common wall with its mirror image. Mrs. Ciak lives in the other half. Her husband has passed on, and she spends her days baking coffee cake and watching television. The outside of her half is painted pale green, and the exterior of my parents’ house is mustard yellow and brown. It’s not an attractive combination, but it feels comfortable to me since it’s been that way for as long as I can remember. Each half of the house has a postage-stamp front yard, a small covered front porch, a back stoop leading to a long narrow backyard, and a detached single-car garage.

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