The Grand Finale LP
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Janet Evanovich
All right reserved.ISBN: 9780061379260
Berry Knudsen eased her battered army surplus Jeep over to the curb, pulled the emergency brake on, and studied the only mailbox in the deserted cul-de-sac. No name. No street number. Terrific. She squinted into the blackness and reread the address taped to the large pizza box on the seat next to her. 5077 Ellenburg Drive. This had to be it. This was Ellenburg Drive, and this was the only house for a quarter of a mile. She thunked her forehead onto the steering wheel and groaned. Last delivery of the night, and it had all the earmarks of a prank.
The house was a three-story Victorian perched on a small hillock. A sliver of moon ducked behind the clouds throwing ghostly highlights over the house, and a chill March wind moaned through a giant oak standing guard over the lawn on the south side. Berry grimaced and decided Jack the Ripper would have felt comfy here. Quasimodo could have added a bell tower and been happy as a clam at high tide. And Count Dracula would have traded half the blood in Transylvania for a house like this. But it's not in Transylvania, Berry reminded herself. It's in suburban Seattle and probably belongs to some nice little old lady and her nephew . . . Norman Bates.
She grimly noted that there wasn't a light shining anywhere. No car in the driveway. No sign of life that might require a large pizza with the works. Damn. She really should go up and ring the doorbell. How bad could the thing lurking behind the ornate, hand-carved front door be? Probably just some hungry pervert, sitting in the dark in his boxers, waiting for the pizza delivery lady.
Berry pushed her short blond curls behind her ear. She was being ridiculous. How did she come up with these ideas? Mr. Large Pizza with the Works simply wasn't home. He probably went out for a six-pack of beer and maybe a hatchet. Happened all the time. And since he wasn't home, there certainly wasn't any reason that she should go up and ring the doorbell. What she should do was get her keister the heck out of this creepy cul-de-sac.
A cat cried in the distance, and the hairs on Berry's neck stood on end. Beads of sweat popped out on her upper lip. She held the steering wheel in a death grip, and the pathetic little meow, filled with fear and wavering uncertainty, echoed through the still air again. Berry closed her eyes and slumped in her seat. It was worse than a cat. It was the cry of a kitten. She was doomed. She was a sucker for lost dogs, fallen nestlings, and stranded kittens. It called out again into the darkness, and Berry grabbed the pizza box and set off across the lawn, drawing courage from the fact that the Victorian house looked less sinister at close range. It had been freshly painted lemon yellow. The intricate gingerbread trim sported a new coat of white. The windows were curtainless, but the panes reflected a recent cleaning. The cat looked down at Berry from a tall oak tree and swished its tail.
"Kitty, kitty, kitty," Berry called softly.
Berry bit her lower lip. The dumb cat was stuck in the tree. A blast of wind ruffled the kitten's fur, causing the little ball of fluff to huddle closer to the limb. Berry rolled her eyes and plunked the pizza box on the ground beside the tree.
"Don't get me wrong," Berry explained to the cat as she scrambled to shinny up the tree. "It's not that I don't like kittens. And it isn't that I mind climbing trees. It's just that I've about filled my good deed quota this week." She grasped at the lowest limb and hauled herself up in perfect tomboy fashion. "Do you know what I did this week, kitty? I advertised for a delivery boy, and then I hired three little old ladies instead. Now they're doing the baking, and I'm doing the delivering." Berry stopped to catch her breath. "I'm not a delivery sort of person. I get lost a lot, and I'm not too brave about knocking on strange doors. And if that isn't bad enough, I moved the old ladies into my apartment."
The kitten looked at her and blinked.
Berry sighed in exasperation. "Well, what could I do? They were living in the train station."
Berry wriggled next to the kitten and looked up toward the stars. It was nice in the tree. The wind whistled through the limbs and whipped her short hair around her face.
"People should sit in trees more often," she said to the cat. "It's peaceful and exciting, all at the same time. And you can see forever. Practically clear down to the little bridge at the lower end of Ellenburg Drive."
She watched in quiet fascination as headlights smoothly moved over the bridge and snaked uphill toward her. The soft rumble of an expensive car broke the silence.
"Just great," she breathed, suddenly aware of her predicament. "Large Pizza with the Works is coming home, and I'm sitting in his tree!"
A Great Gatsbytype car purred up the driveway. It was a large, cream-colored machine with a brown leather convertible top, spoked wheels, and running boards. The garage doors automatically opened, swallowed up the antique car, and closed with a neat click, plunging Berry and the cat back into quiet darkness.
Berry exhaled a low whistle. "Impressive," she remarked to the cat. "What was that? A Stutz Bearcat? Or maybe a Stanley Steamer? Definitely something old and flashy, and perfectly restored. I'll say this for Quasi, he has style and money. I bet he's some eccentric gangster. Some drug runner who's watched too many old movies."
Berry imagined him as looking like Quasimodo in a panama hat. The white pizza box on the ground caught her attention. She should probably deliver it, she thought guiltily. Quasimodo was home now and might be hungry. After all, she did take pride in her job.