Tricky Twenty-Two (Stephanie Plum #22)(11) by Janet Evanovich

“It wasn’t noble. It was stupid. Now he’s going to jail and his mother will have no one. Not to mention I have serious doubts he was stealing to pay for meds. Last time he got busted he said he’d hijacked twenty cases of Jack Daniel’s because he needed to cauterize a bite he got from a rabid dog.”

“Twenty cases sounds excessive,” Lula said.

The front door to the brick building opened, and Billy Bacon walked out.

“Holy cats,” Lula said. “That’s Billy Bacon. It’s like he was waiting for us to come along and arrest him.”

Billy Bacon spotted us in the car and took off at a run up the sidewalk.

“He moves pretty good for a big man,” Lula said, “but he don’t move as fast as my Firebird.”

She gave the Firebird some gas, and just as the car jumped forward Billy Bacon attempted to cross the street. Whump! Lula punted Billy Bacon about twenty feet.

“Oops,” Lula said.

We got out and looked down at Billy Bacon.

“Are you okay?” Lula asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I feel dazed. You hit me with your car.”

“You were born dazed,” Lula said. “And you better hope you didn’t put a scratch in my Firebird. I just had it detailed.”

Billy Bacon lurched to his feet and looked himself over. “I might have a skinned knee or something. You got insurance?”

“What we got is a pair of handcuffs,” Lula said.

I went to cuff him, and he swatted me away. “I don’t want to go to jail. I got things to do.”

“Like what?” Lula asked him.

“Like lunch.”

“We’re going for lunch soon as we get you trussed up,” Lula said. “We’re going for egg salad.”

“I might go with you if you buy me a sandwich,” Bacon said. “I want ham and cheese. And I want a bag of chips. And not the little bag neither.”

I cuffed him and got him settled into the backseat, and Lula drove us the two blocks to the deli.

“I want a egg salad sandwich on worthless white bread,” Lula said. “Make sure they pile on lots of egg salad. And then I want a tub of their potato salad, and a tub of their macaroni salad. And I’ll take a large Diet Coke.”

I left Lula parked at the curb, ran into the deli, and put my order in. Five minutes later I came out and Lula was gone. I looked up and down the street. No Lula. I called her cellphone. No Lula.

Crap.

I waited five minutes and called Lula’s cell again. Nothing. I called Ranger and told him Lula had disappeared with my FTA, and I needed a ride.

“Babe,” Ranger said. And he hung up.

Ten minutes later Ranger’s shiny black Porsche 911 Turbo rolled to a stop in front of the deli. Ranger can’t be bothered with anything as trivial as matching his clothes, so he only wears black. Today he was in the standard Rangeman uniform of black shirt with logo and black cargo pants. His skin is flawless, his hair is soft and sexy and cut short, his body is hard muscle and perfect, his eyes are dark brown and unreadable. His past is murky, and he’s made it known that his future doesn’t involve marriage. It’s the present that worries me, because I get damp when I sit next to him, and damp with Ranger isn’t good. Damp could turn into a flash flood. I know this for a fact. It’s happened. Unfortunately it’s wowie kazowie! at the moment of liftoff and disaster the day after.

I find it hard to emotionally disentangle after we’ve been romantic. I suspect Ranger doesn’t have this problem. I think I might fall into the category of pet for Ranger. He’s fond of me. He’s protective. I amuse him. Beyond that, I’m not sure.

I slid onto the passenger seat, put the bag of food on the floor, and buckled myself in.

“I’m worried about Lula. She’s not answering her phone. We had Billy Bacon cuffed and sitting in the backseat, and I went into the deli for food. When I came out she was gone.”

Ranger glanced down at the bag. “I think we can safely assume she didn’t leave voluntarily, since you have the food. I can’t see Lula walking away from lunch.”

“Maybe you could have your guys keep their eyes open for her.”

Ranger provides high-end, specialized security to individuals and businesses willing to pay his price. Rangeman cars are in constant motion around town, checking on accounts, responding to service calls, always plugged into the command center at the Rangeman building.

Ranger called in the request to look for Lula, and we parked across from Billy Bacon’s building. We watched the street. No Lula. No Billy Bacon.