Summary: A stranger walks into Pino's and it turns out that he knows Steph very well. He's also got a lot of trouble that follows him. Nothing of which Ranger likes very much.
Spoilers/Warnings: A few words here and there, mention of torture, character death
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters, they belong to Janet Evanovich.
Note: In response to a challenge on another board (for old times sake).I've started this story some three years ago, so it's after ten big ones.
„Hey, Pino, get us the usual!"
"Family Pizza with pepperoni and anchovies!"
"Two Meatball subs and two bears!"
"Just a coke… oh what the hell, get me a pizza with mushrooms and ham!"
The orders sired through Pino's, the usual haste around midday. It already had died down a bit as most of the rush hour was over. Left were the regulars, a lot of cops, like Gazarra, Costanza and Big Dog who occupied one of the corner tables near the window. Or the plain clothes like Morelli who sat at a table with some blonde FBI bitch who looked around very arrogantly and undignified. Or the bunch of men in black in the table corner in the back, the two black giants with their backs to the wall. Ah, and of course not to forget some of the desperate fathers who got their kids in tow so their wives could go wild at the sales in Macy's. Which explained why Pino and his people had it fairly easy today, because otherwise a lot of the women would have been here too. Not that Pino was worried. He knew well enough that he'd get his share in the evening, when the tired women stopped by to quickly grab something. Or phoning for deliveries as the sales day was too exhausting for most of them to bother with making something for dinner.
So it was no wonder that when the stranger stepped into Pino's around 1:30 pm every guest's eyes were on him. Oh, not that it was unusual for strangers to come eat at Pino's. Normally though they came earlier. Nor was anyone finding his choice of the meatball sub of any special interest. No, it was his words that captured everyone's attention.
As Pino went to him to give him the menu card he waved it off with a lopsided grin. "No thanks. I heard you get the best Meatball Subs of the world here. So here I am, to see if that's true."
"Oh certainly, Sir!" Pino returned proudly. "So I got recommended?" he asked, always pleased by such information.
"More like just got told, but yeah," the stranger replied, a small smile playing around his lips, what made Stacey Traveport, giving out drinks behind the bar, to almost overspill the beer she was just pouring out.
She had already found the stranger a definite first price when he had walked in, but this secret smile made it even more obvious just what a catch this man was with his wild, a bit ruffled black hair, the enormous green eyes and the lightly tanned skin. Not to mention his build who promised a very nice six-pack and strong arms to catch any woman in a blink of a second. Dreamingly, she sighed, envisioning herself in those arms and already planning her strategy to offer the stranger a friendly tour of Trenton. And her apartment.
"And to whom I owe this obviously excellent recommendation?" Pino asked curiously. Whoever it was, he'd get a Meatball Sub on the house.
"An old friend. Actually I hoped to meet her here. I was told that I may find her here," the stranger answered, looking around and sighing when once again he didn't see her.
"Ah, a little lady, hmm?" Pino asked and winked.
The stranger gave a very male laugh back that had Stacey's hopes sinking. "Well little…" he drawled, a thick Irish accent surfacing. "But perhaps I just missed her?"
"Perhaps. Tell me her name and I'll tell you if I saw her," Pino urged him on.
"Ah, Stephanie Orr."
The conversations in Pino's came to an abrupt stop as everyone turned their attention toward the stranger. So far the guests had listened with half an ear. It was a stranger after all and as most of them worked for law enforcement and the rest just was a gossiping bunch par excellence it naturally interested anyone. But the fact that this man was looking for their favorite bounty hunter was another thing altogether. Not only because her life was better than any soap opera could ever be, or action show for that matter. Or crime show. But also because she was good friends with most of the men at Pino's and each and every one of them was prepared to protect the curly head to all costs. And a stranger turning up, claiming to be friends with her but not even knowing her right name was more than suspicious.
Pino's enthusiasm cooled down obviously and he met Morelli's eyes, seeking advice on how to proceed.
The stranger though seemed to have noticed the air shift and lifted an eyebrow. "Or Plum perhaps. It's been a while and I'm not sure if she kept the Dick's name or not. Probably not, the way I know her," he said amicably.
Pino still waited for a sign from Morelli as to what to do. The cop mustered the stranger with his cold cop glare, the blond FBI lady forgotten beside him. Finally he gave an imperceptible nod.
Pino shook his head. "Sorry, Sir, she hasn't been in yet."
"No problem, I can always try it again at her apartment," the stranger waved it off and Pino walked away.
Slowly the conversations started to stir up again, but the attention was still focused on the stranger.
At the corner table by the window
"You know the guy?" Carl asked Eddie in a low voice.
Eddie shook his head and frowned. "Why should I?"
"Well, you know her the best from all of us!" Carl exclaimed.
Eddie sighed. "And? Doesn't mean I know all the guys in her life." Frowning, he looked over at the stranger. Though he knew them pretty good, or he had thought so so far.
"Perhaps he isn't a friend of Ms Plum after all," Big Dog said, a warning clearly humming in his voice.
Carl scowled. "He better not, or he will find out just how unfriendly a place Trenton can be."
At the corner table in the back
"What do you think, Tank? Is he trouble?" Lester asked, glancing at the bar.
Tank scowled. "Sure he is. The question is rather what kind of trouble he'll bring the Bombshell."
"Shouldn't we inform Ranger?" Bobby asked, frowning.
Tank fixed his gaze on the back of the stranger who had gotten his sub in the meantime. "No, let's first get some information on him."
Lester and Bobby exchanged a worried glance. They just hoped Tank would get the blast once Ranger found out they didn't inform him immediately.
At yet another table
"Really, Detective. I expect more attention when I'm discussing a case with the local police. Which is, if I may remind you, just a very kind gesture from our side."
Morelli turned his stare away from the stranger's back to throw the arrogant bitch a dark look. "Oh yeah, like you had any choice in that matter. May I remind you that the FBI would still be completely in the dark, wouldn't it be for my contacts? Now, Agent Stowe, why don't you eat your salad and give me a much deserved break?"
Not bothering to wait for an answer he turned her his back to continue his stare down of the stranger.
And at yet another table
"Hey, Mare. There's a man looking for Steph at Pino's."
"No idea. Don't know him. He's not from here. Tall, broad, dark hair, white skin, green eyes, Irish accent. Ring any bells?" Larry asked his wife while he firmly took fork and knife out of his youngest son, who exercised at being the worlds worst drummer ever.
It was silent on the other end of the line, only mechanical voices and hysteric shrieks hearable in the background. "No…. I don't think so… unless… but no, that's impossible."
To Larry's surprise she sounded bothered. "Mare?" he asked.
"Nothing." There was another pause. "Steph already knows about this?"
Larry shrugged. "Dunno. But don't think so. He claims he hasn't seen her so far. Actually came here to look for her. – Tommy, put that out of your mouth. That's nothing to eat!"
"Well, she'll hear it soon enough. You managing with the kids?"
"Probably. And of course. Everything is peachy fine." And Larry suppressed a curse when Jimmy fingered with the ketchup bottle and a thick red stream hit Larry's gray shirt.
His wife wisely didn't comment on his last statement. "How's the air?"
"Thick. Morelli stares at him with a big frown between his eyes. The cops probably plan to show themselves from their worst side. And the Rangemen are looking like they already have him secured in their trunk until his flight into the next war zone," Larry reported.
Mary Lou laughed. "Gotta go, but keep me updated. Love you."
"Sure. Love you t… oh wait. Guess who just arrived."
"You bet, honey!"
Seriously pissed off, Steph slammed the door shut. What a fricking miserable day! It was out sales at Macy's and where was she? Right, chasing some pervert old little thief. Without luck so far. First Vinnie had screamed at her she better get the old fart today or she'd be jobless. Oh, Steph was taunted, but then she looked out the office window at her new little car and thought about the increasing insurance rates and very unhappily and unwillingly followed Vinnie's orders. And she almost had the old bastard, but then the little weasel throw the guacamole over her head and then drove off in her wonderful new car! That bastard! Stealing her lovely shiny car!
Lula gave her a lift to her parents where she hauled Big Blue out of their garage. Yep, she was back at Big Blue! Jeez, could this day get any worse? 'Ohhhh, better not name the devil Steph!' She reminded herself with a shudder. It was only shortly after lunch after all. Long overdue for a delicious meal at Pino's in Steph's opinion. And after that she may even head out to Macy's and try to find Lula, Connie and Mary Lou in the jungle.
And Vinnie could fire her all he wanted. Actually, he could kiss her ass…
Crunching up her nose in disgust, she pushed open the door to Pino's, still too pissed off to notice the anxious and quiet tension in her favorite pizza place. Nor did she notice the eyes on her, flickering from her to the stranger sitting at the bar, who had looked up at the bell ringing and then broke out in a big grin at the sight of her. Neither did she notice the hostile and brisk way Stacey took on her orders for a big coke and a mega large pizza. She was oblivious to the collectable hush as the stranger got up from his stool and went over to stand behind her.
The softly spoken nickname she hadn't heard in years in the silky but still rough voice with the irresistible Irish accent she thought she'd never hear again in her life made her froze in shock though.
(Author's Note: Well, I hope you like this introduction. And a little note for those who remember this story from PFF: I finally finished this baby (after two and a half years since the last post - not bad, huh?), so stay tuned until we'll get to the new parts in a few chapters!)