High Five (novel)
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1999 Paperback cover
|Publisher||St. Martin's Press|
|July 16, 1999|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover, Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Four to Score|
|Followed by||Hot Six|
Stephanie is dismayed to hear that none of her boss Vinnie's clients has gone FTA, so there is no work for her at the office. When her Uncle Fred goes missing, Stephanie agrees to help look for him. Fred's wife, Stephanie's Aunt Mabel, has no theories - Fred disappeared in the middle of running errands, and she had no idea anything unusual was going on.
The only thing Mabel can't explain is, she went through Fred's desk and found photos of half-opened garbage bags, containing dismembered human body parts. Stephanie sees enough to identify the body as a woman's, but gives the photos to her on-again/off-again boyfriend, Detective Joe Morelli, who says there is not enough to identify the body.
Stephanie retraces Fred's movements on the day he disappeared, including going to the garbage company to complain about a $2 mistake in his bill (according to Stephanie, "Fred's hobby was being cheap"). Before long, a man calling himself "Bunchy" is following her around, claiming to be a bookie that Fred owes.
The only FTA in Vinnie's files is computer programmer Randy Briggs, who, though he is a little person, is frustratingly difficult to apprehend. When he calls Stephanie a "loser" over the phone, she loses her temper, smashes his apartment door open, and subdues him after a fistfight. A short time later, Briggs is bailed out again and moves into Stephanie's apartment against her wishes, saying he has nowhere else to live until his apartment is repaired.
For the first time, Stephanie takes a job with Ranger's security company to make ends meet. Ranger assures her the jobs are morally justifiable, if not entirely legal, but Stephanie is (again) over her head while tagging along with Ranger's men:
- "Interior decorating" (forcibly evicting the occupants of a drug den in a slum apartment building);
- Chauffeuring a young, spoiled sheikh visiting relatives in Trenton;
- Distracting a deadbeat in a bar while his car is repossessed.
To add to all of Stephanie's problems, Morelli informs her that Benito Ramirez, the psychopathic boxer who stalked her in One for the Money has been released from prison. Ramirez begins stalking her again, despite her best efforts to protect herself.
Stephanie is unsettled when Ranger offers her the use of a Porsche Turbo to drive as a "company car" while working for him. She loves the car, but is unable to shake the fear that Ranger will demand something from her in the future - and that she will be unable to refuse. While she is struggling with her reluctance to commit to Morelli, she is livid when she drives by his house and sees him in conversation with his ex-girlfriend, Terry Gilman.
Stephanie's suspicions are heightened when the receptionist at the garbage company is found shot to death, and then another employee, Larry Lipinski, apparently commits suicide, leaving behind a note confessing to the receptionist's murder. Even stranger, an employee at the cable company is killed around the same time.
On a suggestion from Bunchy, Stephanie takes Fred's canceled check for his $2 overpayment to the bank, which says that all the garbage company's payments are routed through a different bank. Stephanie realizes that someone is skimming payments to the garbage and cable companies, depositing them in different accounts.
While she is investigating, a bomb blows up the Porsche, thankfully without hurting anyone.
She shares her suspicions with Morelli, who confirms that the Trenton Police and federal authorities are investigating the same crimes. Local mob boss Vito Grizzoli is co-owner of the garbage company, so at first the police suspected money laundering, then they realized that someone is skimming from Vito's profits. Vito is cooperating with the investigation, but prefers to keep the police at arm's length, so he uses Terry (his niece) and Morelli as intermediaries. "Bunchy" is actually a federal agent named Bronfman, who thinks that Fred somehow stumbled on the scam, and that is why he disappeared.
When Stephanie returns home, she is confronted by Allan Shempsky, the bank manager, who ties up Briggs and holds Stephanie at gunpoint. He says he and Larry started small, skimming a modest amount just for occasional gambling stakes, but started taking more and more. Unfortunately, Larry's estranged wife, Laura, found out and demanded the money, so Allen and Larry killed her. Fred stumbled onto Laura's dismembered body, and recognized Larry as he was trying to drag the bags away, so he snapped the photos and planned to blackmail Larry. Allen also had to kill Larry, the receptionist, and their cohort at the cable company, all of whom were threatening to expose the skimming.
Allen is about to kill Stephanie, when Ramirez appears on her fire escape. Allen empties his gun at Ramirez, killing him, and allowing Stephanie to flee outside and borrow her neighbor's gun. Before she can return to her apartment, Shempsky escapes.
Ranger offers her one last job: chauffeuring the same sheik to the airport. While she is en route, with her Grandma Mazur in the front seat, Briggs calls, having hacked the bank's records and found out that Shempsky is booked to fly out of the airport in an hour. With Grandma and the sheik's help, Stephanie apprehends Shempsky, who confesses where he buried Fred.
Returning home from Fred's memorial service, Stephanie decides it is time to make a choice; she dresses in a slinky cocktail dress, then calls one of the two men in her life and asks him to come over. The novel ends without saying who she called.
- Stephanie's Porsche Boxster (on loan from Ranger): crushed by a garbage truck, then destroyed by a bomb
- The aforementioned garbage truck: blown up next to the Porsche
- Stephanie's BMW (also on loan from Ranger): Stolen
- Randy Briggs: carrying a concealed weapon
- Alphonze Reuzig
- Kenyan Lally