Twelve Sharp: A Stephanie Plum Novel

Hardcover | November 1, 2007

byJanet Evanovich, Janet Evanovich

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Welcome to Trenton, New Jersey, where bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's life is about to implode in Janet Evanovich's wildest, hottest novel yet


While chasing down the usual cast of miscreants and weirdos Stephanie discovers that a crazed woman is stalking her.


The woman dresses in black, carries a 9mm Glock, and has a bad attitude and a mysterious connection to dark and dangerous Carlos Manoso .street name, Ranger.


The action turns deadly serious, and Stephanie goes from hunting skips to hunting a murderer.


Ranger needs Stephanie for more reasons than he can say. And now, the two are working together to find a killer, rescue a missing child, and stop a lunatic from raising the body count. When Stephanie Plum and Ranger get too close for comfort, vice cop Joe Morelli (her on-again, off-again boyfriend) steps in.

Will the ticking clock stop at the stroke of twelve, or will a stranger in the wind find a way to stop Stephanie Plum.forever? Filled with Janet Evanovich's trademark action, nonstop adventure, and sharp humor, Twelve Sharp shows why her novels have been called "hot stuff" (The New York Times), and Evanovich herself "the master" (San Francisco Examiner).

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From the Publisher

Welcome to Trenton, New Jersey, where bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's life is about to implode in Janet Evanovich's wildest, hottest novel yet!FIRST A STRANGER APPEARSWhile chasing down the usual cast of miscreants and weirdos Stephanie discovers that a crazed woman is stalking her.THEN THE STRANGER REVEALS HER SECRETSThe woman dresses ...

Janet Evanovich is the author of the Stephanie Plum books, including One for the Money and Sizzling Sixteen, and the Diesel & Tucker series, including Wicked Appetite. Janet studied painting at Douglass College, but that art form never quite fit, and she soon moved on to writing stories. She didn't have instant success: she collected ...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:320 pages, 9.5 × 6.4 × 1.1 inPublished:November 1, 2007Publisher:Key Porter BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0312349483

ISBN - 13:9780312349486


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome Someone has stolen Ranger's identity and kidnapped his daughter. Steph is helping Ranger find his little girl. Since these moments are what keep me loving this series, here are some for your pleasure. Stephanie's family are all talking about the new owners of Stiva's funeral parlour. They are a gay couple. ---"I tell you those homosexuals are all over the place," Grandma said. "And they got all the good jobs, too. They get to be cowboys and morticians. I never wanted to be a homosexual, but I always wanted to be a cowboy. What do you think it's like to be a homosexual? Do you think their privates look different?" "All privates look different, " I told her. "I haven't seen too many. Mostly your grandfather's...and that wasn't a pretty sight. I wouldn't mind seeing some others. I'd like to see some minority privates and maybe some blue ones. I was listening to one of them late-night radio shows and they were talking blue balls. I thought that sounded colorful. I wouldn't mind seeing some blue balls."--- Lula and Steph had gone into an adult store to bring in the woman who owns the place. Lula was able to convince Steph to buy a d*ldo. Ranger snooped in the bag. ---He looked in the bag and let out a single soft bark of laughter. "Nice," he said taking the d*ldo out, setting it on the counter, balls down, shaft up like a giant pink rubber mushroom. I'm not one of those women who blushes easily, but I could feel my ears burning. "Having problems with Morelli"? Ranger asked, the edge gone. Anger replaced by something much softer...amusement, exhaustion, affection.--- Melvin is a new character to the Plum series. He is a skip who was caught playing with his thingy (as Grandma Mazur like to call a penis) in a theater. Steph got him a job as a file clerk at the bonds office. This little tid bit happened while they were talking about what to get for lunch. ---"Melvin?" Connie yelled out. "We're ordering from Pino's. Do you want something?" "No," Melvin said from behind the first bank of file cabinets. "I brought my lunch. I have to save money in case I go to jail. I hear if you can't afford to buy cigarettes for everyone you have to be someone's b*tch." "Is that why you didn't show up for your trial?" Lula asked. "On account of you didn't want to be someone's b*tch?" "Yeah. I know I'm a pervert and all, bit I'm not that kind of a pervert. I'm sort of a specialist. I'm like a do-it-yourself pervert." "I hear you,"Lula said. "I've shopped in that isle"--- Ranger and Stephanie spend a lot of time together in this book. Since it takes a while for the police to figure out that the guy who stole Ranger's daughter isn't really Ranger, he is keeping a low profile. He moves in with Stephanie for a few days. One reason is to keep her safe (Because someone is always trying to kill her) Also because his safe house is being used. Stephanie and Joe Morelli are on again in this book, and there are a few moments of tongue kissing, and a morning make out session between her and Ranger that crossed the line for me. As much as I like Ranger, I don't like that Stephanie is messing around with him on the side. I don't care when he kisses her, but when she kisses him back..thats a no no. During the morning make out session they both end up naked, and the only thing that stopped them from having sex was the fact that Joe showed up and started banging on the door. They weren't caught, but Joe isn't stupid. He knows that Ranger wants Stephanie. Joe ended up moved in with Stephanie as well. He says to help keep an eye on her. I think to keep an eye on her and Ranger. In this next quote Stephanie is getting ready to go out in public to hopefully lure the bad guy out. Steph has been wearing a panic button. ---Ranger had the panic button in his hand, and he was looking my dress over. If we'd been alone, he would have slipped in into my cleavage, but Morelli was watching with his hand on his gun. "Oh, for God's sake,"I said. "Just give me the stupid thing." I took the panic button and stuck it into my super sexy Miracle Bra. "GPS," Ranger said to Morelli. "Probably I can find her breast without it," MOrelli said. "But it's good to know there is a navigational system on board if I need it." I saw Ranger's mouth twitch, and I was pretty sure it was a smile. I wasn't sure what the smile meant. First guess would be he was thinking he has no problem finding my breast without the GPS either.--- I liked this one very much, but I am wondering about one thing though. In book 11 Stephanie wanted out of being a bounty hunter. She went off to work for Ranger, and now in book 12 she is working for Vinnie again. There was no explanation as to why she wanted her old job back. I like that she is back to working in this job. A little explanation about it would have been nice though.
Date published: 2008-06-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from wacky This book is entertaining, the characters escapades are so unreal and comical you can't help but smile at times. This is a wacky, hilarious fast-paced novel.
Date published: 2007-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Her best yet! Twelve Sharp is just a little bit sexier, a little bit racier and whole lot funnier. I look forward to kicking off my summer with the latest release from Janet Evanovich. Her Stephanie Plum series is a quick yet addicting read that just keeps getting better. The characters are unpredictable and entertaining. I still chuckle at the thought of Grandma Mazur in a rock band and the misguided wanderings of Lula's leopard skin. I'll be the first in line for Thirteen!
Date published: 2006-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better and Better! She simply keeps getting better! Evanovich’s heroin Stephanie Plum is a character that you want to hang out with over pizza and a beer. As a female I relate to Stephanie’s day to day struggles with her appearance, her shoe needs and her relationship with sweets. Stephanie’s love life is often a clear reflection of what single females today are dealing with. Although, a choice between Ranger and Joe? A girl should have it so hard! In short, Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels are such a huge success because of her characters. They become beloved friends. Keep Stephanie’s adventures coming !
Date published: 2006-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from As Sharp As Ever! This latest Stephanie Plum novel is like candy for all of her fans - we just can't get enough of it. As always, the two men in her life pose a delicious dilemma, and the antics of Lula and Grandma Mazur provide a hilarious romp to the end. Definitely a five thumbs up!
Date published: 2006-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Winner Again Janet Evanovich has come up with the right stuff to keep her fans in stitches. Gramma is without a doubt one the most interesting characters of the Plum saga. Funerals are her thing and no Plum book would be complete without Gramma doing her thing with the casket. This book, in some places, had me laughing out loud. Ranger and Morelli are still pulling Steph back and forth , and eventually she will have to make up her mind. Enjoyed this book and look forward to no. 13 coming out.
Date published: 2006-07-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fun Read Once again Janet Evanovich has made for a fun summer read giving me many laugh out loud moments. All of the main the characters are back with most of the funnies coming from Lula and of course Grandma Mazur. If you liked the past 11 books of the series you'll like this one. It is a great take-to-the-beach book.
Date published: 2006-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Laugh-Out-Loud Thriller! Another riot from Janet Evanovich. I absolutely adore the Stephanie Plum novels and they're never a let down. 12 Sharp was another addicting novel that has you up all night reading. I know I finished it in one sitting. As soon as you finish you're begging for more! I recommend it to any one who loves a good laugh.
Date published: 2006-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What will she do next? Stephanie Plum's at 'er again! But this time, will she blow up a building, a car, or nothing at all? Will she bag her man? Will she bag THE man? Will she finally settle as to who she wants, Joe or Ranger? Will someone else break into her apartment? the biggest question is, what about grandma Mazur and Lula? What crazy adventures will they bring this time? I have read the entire series, and I fully recommend it to anyone! You don't have to read them in order either. If something comes up from another book, they explain it to you. The first one I ever read was hot six, and I wasn't confused for a moment! If you want a good laugh, then definitely read this book! ;p
Date published: 2006-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tears of Laughter I thought that this book was hilarious. This has to be one of her best Stephanie Plum novels yet!! I was laughing so hard that I had tears streaming down my face. This is the best book I have read in a long time.
Date published: 2006-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Janet Evanovich Knocks another Home Run I have been a fan of Janet Evanovich since she started with "One for the Money". She has a gift for humour and storytelling that raises the bar for every other mystery writer out there. Her characters are raw, funny and in your face - they leap off the page and are as real to life as they should be. With "Twelve Sharp", she continues the lightening fast pace with her side kick Lula and her beloved Grandma Mazur dragging her to wakes at the burg's funeral parlour. It was a great choice on Evanovich's part to bring a twist to Ranger's life by introducing the jilted, gun toting wife, Carmen Manoso who stalks Stephanie throughout the book. To all fellow mystery readers out there, be forewarned, you'd best have a few hours to sit and make a butt grove on your couch. Once you pick up Evanovich's Twelve Sharp, you can't put it down till it's done!
Date published: 2006-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun and addictive! Janet Evanovich does not disappoint with the latest installment of the Stephanie Plum series. I could not put this book down - it's fun and exciting. The characters grow and evolve in this book, but they do not lose any of their charm. This is a great book for anyone in the mood for some light reading.
Date published: 2006-07-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good fast read Grandma Mazur and Lula strike again and I laughed to tears at their antics. I went through the book in a few hours tough and I wished it was a bit longer as hard covers are expensive. But fans of Stephanie's adventure won't be deceived, but will she ever chose between Morelli and Ranger?
Date published: 2006-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best one yet Hate the covers of her books..... but you can't judge a book by it's cover. This is probably my favorite so far.... but I say that with each new Stephanie Plum novel. This one gets deeper into the Ranger, Morelli, Plum love triangle. Grandma Mazure is hilarious as usual. Looking forward to getting to know some new characters, and getting to know some other minor characters better. Please, please keep the Stephanie Plum novels coming..... and quick!!!
Date published: 2006-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hilariously addictive I felt like Carol in Hot Six only I'm not addicted to cheese doodles - I'm addicted to Stephanie Plum. I was totally caught off guard I snorted and blew juice out through my nose. I wanted to laugh and I did - belly laughs. I felt like I lived in the Berg and could see it all. If I could write I'd want to write like Janet Evanovich - laughter in life - there's no better medicine. Aside from our heroin - Stephanie I don't know which character I like the most - Grandma Mazur or Lula. Am I a Morelli or Ranger girl? Just like Stephanie I can't make up my mind. If you like to read the Stephanie Plum series is a must.
Date published: 2006-07-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Twelve Down and More to Come Stephanie Plum stays as funny in this book as she has been in all the rest of the series. Her job, her love life & her grandmother continue to entertain us. A great book to take to the beach or while waiting for your turn in a long line up.
Date published: 2006-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome! I love this series, and this book did not let me down! Hilarious and loveable as usual! The only thing I didn't like was that I read it start to finish way too fast, it was impossible to put down!!! Can't wait for the next one!
Date published: 2006-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Twelve Sharp-Fabulous! Wow, does Janet deliver or what!? Twelve Sharp is another wonderful Stephanie Plum novel that truly delivers humour, romance and thrills! Every year, the characters get better and better! I read this in 2 days ( work does get in the way) and now I'm back to waiting for the next one! June, the release month of Plum novels is always anxiously awaited. Read this book! You'll laugh out loud and want to be a character in it! Thanks Janet!
Date published: 2006-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Janet does it again! Stephanie can never win in love, in her career not even with her hair! Life is in a roller coaster for Stephanie this time. Ranger has gone awol, crazy women are shooting at Stephanie, Morielle wants her to quit and now Lulu is in a band! This is a very fast paced and hillarious look at Stephanie's life!
Date published: 2006-07-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Another fun read As usual, Evanovich has provided a humorous, easy read. The plot is full of the usual Stephanie Plum ineptitude and a wild cast of characters. A strangely compelling book for such a light-weight . Don't expect a mind-numbing mystery. For an intellectual challenge, try P.D.James "The Lighthouse".
Date published: 2006-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Marvelous!!!!! Janet Evanovich is simply brillant! A lot of laughs all the way through. Again an awesome book with thrills and excitement. The love life and the car explosions are never a dull moment. This is a series that can be read over and over again and you will laugh every time. Going between Ranger and Morelli was truely a hair raiser in anticipation. I've read all the books but so far this one is the best and it is an ABSOLUTE MUST READ!!!! With all the pshyco- paths that follow and stalk her tears will flow from your eyes while laughing. I don't think I have ever read such a hilarious book. Janet Evanovich deserves one hundred gold stars!!!!
Date published: 2006-07-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fabulous as usual Janet Evanovich's storytelling abilitiies put me on the edge of my chair every time. Stephanie Plum solves it again in an entertaining and very quick read.
Date published: 2006-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely Fabulous! If you have read all the other Plum novels this one is an absolute MUST READ! Stephanie always gets herself in trouble, people still shoot at her and she still has crazies trying to find her. Her love life is complicated, as it should be... who would be able to pick between Morelli and Ranger? She definetly can't figure it out, but she might not have to when one of them gets shot. I have read all the Plum novels and loved each one, but my heart was in this one, It was so easy to fall in love with the characters all over again, and my heart broke everytime something bad happened...not to mention I think I stopped breathing at some points!
Date published: 2006-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great !!! Twelve Sharp is just as good as all the other books in the series and I truly enjoyed it. Stephanie is, as always, bumbling into trouble. Grandma is still opening the lids of closed coffins and in this episode joins a rock band. Stephanie's love life gets even more complicated when the two men she is involved with move into her appartment, at the same time!!! I highly recommend the entire Stephanie Plum series.
Date published: 2006-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My thoughts on 12 Sharp--Fantastic Sharpest... In My opinion that it is Evanovich's Sharpest Plum Novel yet. Sharpest witt and great intriguing storyline. We see the Human paternal side of Ranger, not just the ball-busting mysteryman. I am rooting for Ranger to get out of the hot water he is in and get his daughter back from the scum Bag. On the humorous side of things, the addition of Melvin Pickle is priceless , and Grandma Mazurs comment about wanting to see some blue balls nearly killed me. I am aspiring to be a writer and Janet is an inspiration to me. I admire Steph's desire to be true to Morelli. Meanwhile you can feel the sexual tension oozing between Ranger and Stephanie.
Date published: 2006-06-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lula, Lula The cast of characters are as fresh, outrageous, funny and exciting as the first time you met them. Fashionistas will love Lula. No one can outdo Stephanie Plum for the experiences she encounters. Hurry out and buy this book. It's a great anytime read.
Date published: 2006-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Can't put this one down!! I just couldn't stop reading! Ranger, Ranger, Ranger!! Anything written about Ranger is a heart stopper! But this time, Janet out did herself! Stephanie & Lula as usual are mind boggling! It's definitely worth a night without sleep in order to read the book in one sitting.
Date published: 2006-06-22

Extra Content

Read from the Book

Chapter One When I was twelve years old I accidentally substituted salt for sugar in a cake recipe. I baked the cake, iced the cake, and served it up. It looked like a cake, but as soon as you cut into it and took a taste, you knew something else was going on. People are like that, too. Sometimes you just can't tell what's on the inside from looking at the outside. Sometimes people are a big surprise, just like the salt cake. Sometimes the surprise turns out to be good. And sometimes the surprise turns out to be bad. And sometimes the surprise is just friggin' confusing. Joe Morelli is one of those good surprises. He's two years older than I am, and for most of my school years, spending time with Morelli was like a visit to the dark side, alluring and frightening. He's a Trenton cop now, and he's my off-again, on-again boyfriend. He used to be the hair-raising part of my life, but my life has had a lot of changes, and now he's the normal part. He has a dog named Bob, and a nice little house, and a toaster. On the outside Morelli is still street tough and dangerously alluring. On the inside Morelli is now the sexy guy with the toaster. Go figure. I have a hamster named Rex, a utilitarian apartment, and my toaster is broken. My name is Stephanie Plum, and I work as a bond enforcement agent, also known as a bounty hunter, for my cousin Vinnie. It's not a great job, but it has its moments, and if I mooch food off my parents the job almost pays enough to get me through the month. It would pay a lot more but the truth is, I'm not all that good at it. Sometimes I moonlight for a guy named Ranger who's extremely bad in an incredibly good way. He's a security expert, and a bounty hunter, and he moves like smoke. Ranger is milk chocolate on the outside . . . a delicious, tempting, forbidden pleasure. And no one knows what's on the inside. Ranger keeps his own counsel. I work with two women I like a lot. Connie Rosolli is Vinnie's office manager and junkyard dog. She's a little older than I am. A little smarter. A little tougher. A little more Italian. She's got a lot more chest, and she dresses like Betty Boop. The other woman is my sometimes-partner Lula. Lula was at this moment parading around in the bail bonds office, showing Connie and me her new outfit. Lula is a way-beyond-voluptuous black woman who was currently squashed into four-inch spike heels and a sparkly gold spandex dress that had been constructed for a much smaller woman. The neckline was low, and the only thing keeping Lula's big boobs from popping out was the fact that the material was snagged on her nipples. The skirt was stretched tight across her ass and hung two inches below the full moon. With Connie and Lula you get what you see. Lula bent to take a look at the heel on her shoe, and Connie was treated to a view of the night sky. "Crikey," Connie said. "You need to put some underwear on." "I got underwear on," Lula said. "I'm wearing my best thong. Just 'cause I used to be a 'ho don't mean I'm cheap. Problem is that little thong stringy gets lost in all my derriere." "Tell me again what you're doing in this getup," Connie said. "I'm gonna be a rock-and-roll singer. I got a gig singing with Sally Sweet's new band. You heard of the Who? Well, we're gonna be the What." "You can't sing," Connie said. "I've heard you sing. You can't hold a tune to 'Happy Birthday.' " "The hell I can't," Lula said. "I could sing your ass off. Besides, half those rock stars can't sing. They just open their big oversize mouths and yell. And you gotta admit, I look good in this here dress. Nobody gonna be paying attention to my singing when I'm wearing this dress." "She's got a point," I said to Connie. "No argument," Connie said. "I'm underrealized," Lula said. "I gotta lot of untapped potential. Yesterday my horoscope said I gotta expand my horizons." "You expand any more in that dress, and you'll get yourself arrested," Connie said. The bonds office is on Hamilton Avenue, a couple blocks from Saint Frances Hospital. Handy for bonding out guys who've been shot. It's a small storefront office sandwiched between a beauty parlor and a used bookstore. There's an outer room with a scarred imitation leather couch, a couple folding chairs, Connie's desk and computer, and a bank of files. Vinnie's office is located in a room behind Connie's desk. When I started working for Vinnie he used his office to talk to his bookie and set up nooners with barnyard animals, but Vinnie has recently discovered the Internet, and now Vinnie uses his office to surf porn sites and online casinos. Behind the bank of file cabinets is a storeroom filled with the nuts and bolts of the bail bonds business. Confiscated televisions, DVD players, iPods, computers, a velvet painting of Elvis, a set of cookware, blenders, kids' bikes, engagement rings, a tricked-out Hog, a bunch of George Foreman grills, and God knows what else. Vinnie had some guns and ammo back there too. Plus a box of cuffs that he got on eBay. There's a small bathroom that Connie keeps spotless and a back door in case there's a need to sneak off. "I hate to be a party pooper," Connie said, "but we're going to have to put the fashion show on hold because we have a problem." She slid a stack of folders across her desk at me. "These are all unresolved skips. If we don't find some of these guys we're going belly-up." Here's the way bail bonds works. If you're accused of a crime and you don't want to sit and rot in jail while you're waiting for your trial to come up, you can give the court a wad of money. The court takes the money and lets you walk, and you get the money back when you show up on your trial date. If you don't have that money stashed under your mattress, a bail bondsman can give the court the money on your behalf. He'll charge you a percentage of the money, maybe ten percent, and he'll keep that percentage whether you're proven guilty or not. If the accused shows up for court, the court gives the bail bondsman his money back. If the accused doesn't show up, the court keeps the money until the bondsman finds the accused and drags his sorry butt back to jail. So you see the problem, right? Too much money going out and not enough money going in, and Vinnie might have to refinance his house. Or worse, the insurance company that backs Vinnie could yank the plug. "Lula and I can't keep up with the skips," I said to Connie. "There are too many of them." "Yeah, and I'll tell you the problem," Lula said. "It used to be Ranger worked full time for you, but anymore he's got his own security business going, and he's not doing skip tracing. It's just Stephanie and me catching the bad guys these days." It was true. Ranger had moved most of his business toward the security side and only went into tracking mode when something came in that was over my head. There are some who might argue everything is over my head, but for practical purposes we've had to ignore that argument. "I hate to say this," I told Connie, "but you need to hire another bond enforcement person." "It's not that easy," Connie said. "Remember when we had Joyce Barnhardt working here? That was a disaster. She screwed up all her busts doing her big bad bounty hunter routine. And then she stole everyone's skips. It's not like she's a team player." Joyce Barnhardt is my archenemy. I went all through school with her, and she was a misery. And before the ink was dry on my marriage license she was in bed with my husband, who is now my ex-husband. Thank you, Joyce. "We could put a ad in the paper," Lula said. "That's how I got my filing job here. Look at how good that turned out." Connie and I did eye rolls. Lula was about the worst file clerk ever. Lula kept her job because no one else would tolerate Vinnie. The first time Vinnie made a grab at Lula she clocked him on the side of the head with a five-pound phone book and told him she'd staple his nuts to the wall if he didn't show respect. And that was the end of sexual harassment in the bail bonds office. Connie read the names off the files on her desk. "Lonnie Johnson, Kevin Gallager, Leon James, Dooby Biagi, Caroline Scarzolli, Melvin Pickle, Charles Chin, Bernard Brown, Mary Lee Truk, Luis Queen, John Santos. These are all current. You already have half of them. The rest came in last night. Plus we have nine outstanding that we've relegated to the temporarily lost cause file. Vinnie's writing a lot of bond these days. Probably taking risks he shouldn't. The result is more than the normal FTAs." When someone doesn't show up for a court appearance we call them FTA. Failure to Appear. People fail to appear for a bunch of reasons. Hookers and pushers can make more money on the street than they can in jail so they only show up in court when you finally stop bonding them out. All other people just don't want to go to jail. Connie gave me the new files, and it was like an elephant was sitting on my chest. Lonnie Johnson was wanted for armed robbery. Leon James was suspected of arson and attempted murder. Kevin Gallager was wanted for grand theft auto. Mary Lee Truk had inserted a carving knife into her husband's left buttock during a domestic disturbance. And Melvin Pickle was caught with his pants down in the third row of the multiplex. Lula was looking over my shoulder, reading along with me. "Melvin Pickle sounds like fun," she said. "I think we should start with Melvin." "Maybe a bond enforcement agent wanted ad in the paper isn't such a bad idea," I said to Connie. "Yeah," Lula said, "just be careful how you word it. You probably want to fib a little. Like you don't want to say we're looking for some gun-happy lunatic to take down a bunch of scumbags." "I'll keep that in mind when I write it up," Connie said. "I'm going down the street," I told Lula. "I need something to make me happy. We'll go to work when I get back." "You going to the drugstore?" Lula wanted to know. "No. The bakery." "I wouldn't mind if you brought me back one of them cream-filled doughnuts with the chocolate frosting," Lula said. "I need to get happy, too." At mid-morning the Garden State was heating up. Pavement was steaming under a cloudless sky, petrochemical plants were spewing to the north, and cars were emitting hydrocarbons statewide. By mid-afternoon I'd feel the toxic stew catch in the back of my throat, and I'd know it was truly summer in Jersey. For me, the stew is part of the Jersey experience. The stew has attitude. And it enhances the pull of Point Pleasant. How can you completely appreciate the Jersey shore if the air is safe to breathe in the interior parts of the state? I swung into the bakery and went straight to the doughnut case. Marjorie Lando was behind the counter, filling cannoli for a customer. Fine by me. I could wait my turn. The bakery was always a soothing experience. My heart rate slowed in the presence of massive quantities of sugar and lard. My mind floated over the acres of cookies and cakes and doughnuts and cream pies topped with rainbow sprinkles, chocolate frosting, whipped cream, and meringue. I was patiently contemplating my doughnut selection when I sensed a familiar presence behind me. A hand brushed my hair back, and Ranger leaned in to me and kissed me on the nape of my neck. "I could get you to look at me like that if I had five minutes alone with you," Ranger said. "I'll give you five minutes alone with me if you'll take over half my skips." "Tempting," Ranger said, "but I'm on my way to the airport, and I'm not sure when I'll be back. Tank is in charge. Call him if you need help. And let him know if you decide to move into my apartment." Not that long ago I needed a safe place to stay, and sort of commandeered Ranger's apartment when he was out of town. Ranger had come home and found me sleeping in his bed like Goldilocks. He'd very graciously not thrown me out the seventh-floor window. And in fact he'd allowed me to stay with a minimum of sexual harassment. Okay, maybe minimum isn't entirely accurate. Maybe it was a seven on a scale of ten, but he hadn't forced the issue. "How did you know I was here?" I asked him. "I stopped at the bonds office, and Lula told me you were on a doughnut mission." "Where are you going?" "Miami." "Is this business or pleasure?" "It's bad business." Marjorie finished with her customer and made her way over to me. "What'll it be?" she wanted to know. "A dozen Boston Cream doughnuts." "Babe," Ranger said. "They're not all for me." Ranger doesn't often smile. Mostly he thinks about smiling, and this was one of those thinking-smile times. He wrapped his hand around my wrist, pulled me to him, and kissed me. The kiss was warm and short. No tongue in front of the bakery lady, thank God. He turned and walked away. Tank was idling at the curb in a black SUV. Ranger got in and they drove off. Marjorie was behind the counter with a cardboard box in her hand and her mouth dropped open. "Wow," she said. That dragged a sigh out of me because she was right. Ranger was definitely a wow. He stood half a head taller than me. He was perfectly toned muscle, and he had classic Latino good looks. He always smelled great. He dressed only in black. His skin was dark. His eyes were dark. His hair was dark. His life was dark. Ranger had lots of secrets. "It's a work relationship," I told Marjorie. "If he was in here any longer, the chocolate would have melted off the eclairs."  "I don't like this," Lula said. "I wanted to go after the pervert. I personally think it's a bad choice to go after the guy who likes guns." "He's got the highest bond. The fastest way to dig Vinnie out of the hole is to get the guy with the highest bond." We were in Lula's red Firebird, sitting across the street from Lonnie Johnson's last known address. It was a small clapboard bungalow in a depressed neighborhood that backed up to the hockey arena. It was close to noon and not a great time to roust a bad guy. If he's still in bed, it's because he's drunk and mean. If he's not in bed, it's most likely because he's at a bar getting drunk and mean. "What's the plan?" Lula wanted to know. "We gonna just bust in like gangsta bounty hunters and kick his ass?" I looked at Lula. "Have we ever done that?" "Don't mean we can't." "We'd look like idiots. We're incompetent." "That's harsh," Lula said. "And I don't think we're completely incompetent. I think we're closer to eighty percent incompetent. Remember the time you wrestled that naked greased-up fat guy? You did a good job with that one." "Too early in the day to do the pizza delivery routine," I said. "Can't do the flower delivery either. Nobody believe someone sending flowers to this dope." "If you hadn't changed clothes you could do the hooker delivery routine," I said to Lula. "He would have opened the door to you in that gold thing." "Maybe we pretend we're selling cookies. Like Girl Scouts. All we gotta do is go back to the 7-Eleven and get some cookies." I looked Johnson's phone number up on the bond sheet and called him from my cell. "Yeah?" a man said. "Lonnie Johnson?" "What the fuck you want? Fuckin' bitch calling me at this hour. You think I got nothin' better to do than answer this phone?" And he hung up. "Well?" Lula asked. "He didn't feel like talking. And he's angry." A shiny black Hummer with tinted windows and bling wheel covers rolled down the street and stopped in front of Johnson's house. "Uh-oh," Lula said. "Company." The Hummer sat there for a moment and then opened fire on Johnson's house. Multiple weapons. At least one was automatic, firing continuous rounds. Windows blew out and the house was drilled with shots. Gunfire was returned from the house, and I saw the nose of a rocket launcher poke out a front window. Obviously the Hummer saw it too because it laid rubber taking off. "Maybe this isn't a good time," I said to Lula. "I told you to go for the pervert."  Melvin Pickle worked in a shoe store. The store was part of the mall that attached to the multiplex where he'd been caught shaking hands with the devil. I didn't have a lot of enthusiasm for this capture, since I had some sympathetic feelings for Pickle. If I had to work in a shoe store all day I might go to the multiplex to whack off once in a while too. "Not only is this going to be an easy catch," Lula said, parking at the food court entrance, "but we can get pizza and go shopping." A half hour later, we were full of pizza and had taken a couple new perfumes out for a test drive. We'd moseyed down the mall and were standing in front of Pickle's shoe store, scoping out the employees. I had a photo of Pickle that had come with his bond agreement. "That's him," Lula said, looking into the store. "That's him on his knees, trying to sell that dumb woman those ugly-ass shoes." According to Pickle's paperwork he'd just turned forty. He had sandy-colored hair that looked like it had been cut in boot camp. His skin was pale, his eyes hidden behind round-rimmed glasses, his mouth accented by a big herpes sore. He was five-foot-seven and had an average build gone soft. His slacks and dress shirt were just short of shabby. He didn't look like he cared a whole lot if the woman bought the shoes. I moved my cuffs from my shoulder bag to my jeans pocket. "I can manage this," I said to Lula. "You stay here in case he bolts." "I don't think he looks like a bolter," Lula said. "I think he looks more like the walking dead." I agreed with Lula. Pickle looked like he was two steps away from putting a bullet in his brain. I moved behind him and waited for him to stand. "I love this shoe," the woman said. "But I need a size nine." "I don't have a size nine," Pickle said. "Are you sure?" "Yeah." "Maybe you should go back and look again." Pickle sucked air for a couple beats and nodded. "Sure," he said. He stood and turned and bumped into me. "You're going to leave, aren't you?" I said. "I bet you're going to go out the back door and go home and never come back." "It's a recurring fantasy," he said. I glanced at my watch. It was twelve-thirty. "Have you had lunch?" I asked him. "No." "Take your lunch now and come with me, and I'll buy you a piece of pizza." "There's something wrong with this picture," Pickle said. "Are you one of those religious nuts who wants to save me?" "No. I'm not a religious nut." I held my hand out. "Stephanie Plum." He automatically shook my hand. "Melvin Pickle." "I work for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds," I said. "You missed a court date, and you need to reschedule." "Sure," he said. "Now." "I can't go now. I gotta work." "You can take your lunch break." "I had plans for lunch." Probably going to see a movie. I was still holding his hand, and with my other hand I clapped a bracelet on him. He looked down at the cuff. "What's this? You can't do this. People will ask questions. And then what will I tell them? I'll have to tell them I'm a pervert!" Two women looked over at him and raised their eyebrows. "No one will care," I said. I turned to the women. "You don't care, right?" "Right," they murmured and hurried out of the store. "Just walk out into the mall quietly with me," I said. "I'll take you to court and get you rebonded." Actually, Vinnie would rebond him. Vinnie and Connie could write bond. Lula and I did the capture thing. "Darn," Pickle said. "Darn it all." And he took off with the cuff dangling from his wrist. Lula stepped in front of him, but he had momentum and knocked her on her ass. He faltered for a moment, got his footing, and ran off into the mall. I was ten steps behind him. I stumbled over Lula, scrambled to my feet, and kept going. I chased him through the mall and up an escalator. A hotel with an open atrium was attached to one end of the mall. Pickle ran into the hotel and barreled through the fire door into the stairwell. I chased him up five flights of stairs and thought my lungs were going to explode. He exited the stairwell, and I dragged myself, gasping, to the door. There were seven floors in the hotel. All rooms opened to a hallway that overlooked the hotel atrium. We were on the sixth floor. I staggered out of the stairwell and saw that Pickle had made it halfway around the atrium and was straddling the balcony railing. "Don't come near me," he yelled. "I'll jump." "Fine with me," I said. "I get my money dead or alive." Pickle looked depressed at that fact. Or maybe Pickle just always looked depressed. "You're in pretty good shape," I said, still winded. "How do you stay in such good shape?" "My car got repossessed. I walk everywhere. And all day long I'm up and down with the shoes. At the end of the day my knees are killing me." I was talking to him, creeping closer. "Why don't you get a different job? One that's easier on your knees." "Are you kidding me? I'm lucky to have this job. Look at me. I'm a loser. And now everybody's going to know I'm a pervert. I'm a pervert loser. And I have a big herpes. I'm a pervert loser with a herpes!" "You need to get a grip. You don't have to be a pervert loser if you don't want to be." He sat on the railing and swung both legs over. "Easy for you to say. You aren't named Melvin Pickle. And I bet you were a baton twirler in high school. You probably had friends. You probably date." "I don't exactly date, but I sort of have a boyfriend." "What does sort of mean?" "It means that he looks like my boyfriend, but I don't say it out loud." "Why not?" Pickle wanted to know. "It feels weird. I'm not sure why." Okay, I knew why, but I wasn't going to say that out loud either. I had feelings for two men, and I didn't know how to chose between them. "And I wish you wouldn't sit like that. It's creeping me out." "Are you afraid I'll fall? I thought you didn't care. Remember dead or alive?" My cell phone was ringing in my bag. "For crying out loud, answer it," Pickle said. "Don't worry about me, I'm only going to kill myself." I did an exaggerated eye roll and answered the phone. "Hey," Lula said. "Where are you? I been looking all over." "I'm in the hotel at the end of the mall." "I'm right outside of that hotel. What are you doing there? Do you have Pickle?" "I don't exactly have Pickle. We're on the sixth floor, and he's thinking about jumping off the balcony." I looked over the railing and saw Lula walk into the atrium. She looked up, and I waved at her. "I see you," Lula said. "Tell Pickle he's gonna make a big mess if he jumps. This floor's marble, and his head's gonna crack open like a fresh egg, and there's gonna be brains and blood all over the place." I disconnected and relayed the message to Pickle. "I have a plan," he said. "I'm going to jump feet first. That way my head won't make such an impact when I land." Pickle was getting noticed. People were dotted around the atrium, looking up at him. The elevator opened behind me and a man in a suit stepped out. "What's going on here?" he wanted to know. "Don't come near me!" Pickle yelled. "If you come near me, I'll jump." "I'm the hotel manager," the man said. "Is there something I can do?" "Do you have a giant net?" I asked him. "Just go away," Pickle said. "I have big problems. I'm a pervert." "You don't look like a pervert," the manager said. "I whacked off in the multiplex," Pickle told him. "Everybody whacks off in the multiplex," the manager said. "I like to go when there's one of those chick flicks playing, and I wear my wife's panties and I--" "Jeez," Pickle said. "Too much information." The manager disappeared behind the elevator doors and minutes later reappeared in the lobby. He stood in a small cluster of hotel employees, everyone with their heads back, their eyes glued to Pickle. "You're making a scene," I said to Pickle. "Yeah," Pickle said. "Pretty soon they're going to start yelling 'jump.' The human race is lacking. Have you noticed?" "There are some good people," I told him. "Oh yeah? Who's the best person you know? Of all the people you know personally, is there anyone who has a sense of right and wrong and lives by it?" This was a sticky question because it would have to be Ranger . . . but I suspected he occasionally killed people. Only bad people, of course, but still . . .  The crowd in the atrium was growing and now included some uniformed security guys and two Trenton cops. One of the cops was on his two-way, probably calling Morelli to tell him I was involved in yet another disaster. A cameraman and his assistant joined the crowd. "We're on television," I told Pickle. Pickle looked down, waved at the camera, and everyone cheered. "This is getting too weird," I told Pickle. "I'm leaving." "You can't leave. If you leave, I'll jump." "I don't care, remember?" "Of course you care. You'll be responsible for my death." "Oh no. No, no, no." I wagged my finger at him. "That won't work with me. I grew up in the Burg. I was raised Catholic. I know guilt in and out. The first thirty years of my life were ruled by guilt. Not that guilt is an entirely bad thing. But you're not going to lay it on me. Whether you live or die is your choice. I have nothing to do with it. I'm not taking responsibility for the state of the pot roast anymore." "Pot roast?" "Every Friday I'm expected for dinner at my parents' house. Every Friday my mom makes pot roast. If I'm late, the pot roast cooks too long and gets dry, and it's all my fault." "And?" "And it's not my fault!" "Of course it's your fault. You were late. They were nice enough to make a pot roast for you. Then they were nice enough to hold dinner for you even though it meant ruining the pot roast. Boy, you should learn some manners." My cell phone rang again. It was my Grandma Mazur. She lives with my mom and dad. She moved in when Grandpa Mazur sailed off in a heaven-bound gravy boat. "You're on television," she said. "I was trying to find Judge Judy, and you popped up. They said you were breaking news. Are you trying to rescue that guy on the railing, or are you trying to get him to jump?" "In the beginning I was trying to rescue him," I said. "But I'm starting to change my mind." "I gotta go now," Grandma said. "I gotta call Ruth Biablocki and tell her you're on television. She's always going on about her granddaughter and how she's got that good job at the bank. Well let's see her top this one. Her grandaughter don't get on television!" "What are you so depressed about that you want to jump off this balcony?" I asked Pickle. "Jumping to your death is pretty severe." "My life sucks! My wife left me and took everything, including my clothes and my dog. I got fired from my job and had to go to work in a shoe store. I have no money, so I had to move back home and live with my mother. And I got caught whacking off in a multiplex. Could it possibly get any worse?" "You have your health." "I think I'm getting a cold. I have a huge oozing cold sore!" My phone rang again. "Cupcake," Morelli said, "I don't like finding you in a hotel with another guy." I looked down and saw Morelli standing next to Lula. "He's a jumper," I told Morelli. "Yeah," Morelli said. "I can see that. What's the story?" "He got caught whacking off in the multiplex and doesn't want to go to jail." "He won't get a lot of jail time for that," Morelli said. "Maybe a couple weekends or community service. It's not a big deal. Everyone whacks off in the multiplex." I relayed the message to Pickle. "It's not just jail," Pickle said. "It's me. I'm a loser." Morelli was still on the phone. "Now what?" "He's a loser." "You're on your own with that one," Morelli said. "Are you going to need help with this?" "Maybe you need . . . vitamins," I said to Pickle. Pickle looked at me. Hopeful. "Do you think that could be it?" "Yeah. If you get off the railing we could go to the health food store and get some." "You're just saying that to get me off the railing." "True. When you get off the railing, the police will probably arrest you for being a nut. You'll have to go to the station and wait for Vinnie to get there to bond you out again." "I can't afford to get bonded out again. I just walked off my job. I'm probably unemployed." "Oh for the love of everything holy." I peeked at my watch. I didn't have time for this. I had other fish to fry. "How about this. We need someone to do filing at the bonds office. Maybe I can get Vinnie to hire you so you can work off the fee to get bonded out." "Really? You'd do that for me?" Morelli was still listening in. "Okay, so far we've promised him community service, vitamins, and a job. The only thing left that he could possibly want is gorilla sex. And if you promise that to him I'm not going to be happy." I disconnected Morelli and put the phone back into my pocket. "About the job," Pickle said. "Vinnie wouldn't mind that I'm a . . . you know, pervert?" That was pretty funny. Vinnie minding that Pickle whacked off at the multiplex. "It's probably the only thing you have going for you," I told Pickle. "Okay," he said. "But you're going to have to help me get off this railing. I'm terrified to move." I grabbed the back of his shirt and hauled him off the railing, and we both collapsed into a heap on the floor. The crowd reaction was mixed. Some cheers and some boos. We got to our feet, and I cuffed his hands behind his back and led him to the elevator. Copyright © 2006 by Evanovich, Inc.