The Hitwoman And The Teddy Bear
Confessions of a Slightly Neurotic Hitwoman Book 26
Maggie Lee has done some really questionable things, but she’s never stooped so low as to steal a child’s toy. There’s a first time for everything.
Maggie’s life is always complicated, but her tenuous balancing act becomes even more dangerous when she’s given the job of stealing a teddy bear from the grandson of the mobster Delveccio.
As she struggles to keep the different facets of her life separate, her family faces multiple threats to their safety, and there’s a very real chance she won’t be able to protect everyone she loves.
Her best chance at success depends on the help of her pets…and you can bet they all have something to say about that.
You just know it’s going to be a bad day when an ass is calling your name.
“Maggie! Maggie Lee!” Irma brayed.
“What?” Pitchfork in hand, I turned to find out what Irma, the donkey, wanted now. I’d already given her an apple and scratched her ears.
Most days, it’s kind of cool being able to talk to animals, but sometimes they can be overly demanding. Today was one of those days. I’d dealt with the lizard’s request for fresh crickets, the Doberman pinscher’s lament of endless hunger, and the donkey’s need for attention while I cleaned her stall.
“Where’s Herschel?” Irma asked.
“I told you, he has a cold. He’s staying in bed.” I stabbed the straw on the floor with the pitchfork.
“Is he going to die?” Irma drummed her hooves. “Zippy said he’s dying.”
I rolled my eyes and shook my head. “He’s not going to die.”
“That little furball is a troublemaker,” God, the anole lizard curled up in my bra, muttered.
“But Zippy said that Susan told Leslie he’s acting like he’s going to die,” Irma countered sadly.
I bit back a laugh. I had no doubt that Aunt Susan had said that about her father. She’d never been the most patient nursemaid and Herschel had been acting like he was the first person to ever get the sniffles.
Still, I could understand how Zippy, Herschel’s little white dog, could have misinterpreted Susan’s complaint. No doubt she’d delivered the criticism with dramatic flair to her sister. I put the pitchfork down and took the donkey’s face in both my hands. “He’s going to be fine,” I pledged. “It’s just a cold. He was well enough to deal with the building inspector who was here yesterday.”
I didn’t mention that Herschel had complained nonstop about the sudden inspection. It had something to do with old walls and insurance or something. I really hadn’t paid much attention. Dealing with household construction emergencies wasn’t my highest priority. I was worried about a lot more important things.
“He’s going to be okay,” I promised the donkey.
“If you say so.” Irma did not sound convinced.
“I do.” I kissed her nose.
“Are you marrying the donkey?” my friend Armani asked from behind me.
I glanced over my shoulder. “You’re back!”
She nodded, but I could tell from the frown lines between her brows that she wasn’t happy. I gave Irma one last pat, picked up the pitchfork, hung it on the wall, and walked out of the barn. Armani followed.
“Something bothering you?” I asked once we were outside.
I glanced over at her, surprised by her restrained response. “I’m not psychic, but even I can tell something’s wrong.”
She let out a heavy sigh, staring off into the distance.
“Not a good visit?” I guessed. She’d gone to see her boyfriend, Jack Stern, a crime reporter who’s been out of town, chasing down a lead on a story. I liked Jack, but his quest for the truth could be a bit inconvenient, so I wouldn’t be exactly heartbroken if they broke up.
She waved her good hand dismissively. “It was fine.”
I frowned. For someone who usually said whatever was on her mind—even when I didn’t want to hear it—her noncommittal responses were definitely out of character. “Well, if you decide you do want to talk about it, you know where to find me.” I began to walk toward the house, wanting a shower after mucking out the donkey’s stall.
“Why aren’t the kids in school?” she called after me.
I stopped, realizing a shower probably wasn’t in my near future. My gaze flicked over to the empty room in the barn where my nieces, Katie and Alicia, attended school.
“It’s Sunday,” I reminded her, turning to watch her. “Marlene and Doc are watching a movie with them in the basement.”
She nodded. “How’s your dad?”
“Better,” I answered. My father was recovering from a gunshot wound and seemed to be on the mend. “They released him from the hospital and he’s staying at Ian’s place.”
“Maybe I should visit,” she suggested.
“Archie or Ian?” I teased lightly, knowing she thought my brother was attractive.
When she didn’t respond to the good-natured taunt, I started to think something was really wrong.
“I’m worried about Griswald,” she blurted out.
My stomach dropped. I was worried about Aunt Susan’s husband, U.S. Marshal Lawrence Griswald too, but there was no way Armani could know that. I stepped closer to her. “Why?”
“Dreams,” she muttered. “Terrible dreams.”
My gut clenched. I already knew that someone was after Griswald, and while Armani’s dreams, visions, and predictions aren’t wholly accurate, there is always a kernel of truth in them. “Tell me about the dreams.”
I nodded encouragingly.
“Do you girls want chicken soup?” a voice yelled.
Glancing back, I saw Templeton, Aunt Loretta’s fiancé, standing on the porch of the house wearing a floral chintz apron and waving a soup ladle like it was a marching band leader’s baton.
“Yes!” Armani replied before I could get a word out.
Templeton waved us inside. “It’s ready.”
“I love chicken soup,” Armani said, limping past me toward the house.
Walking beside her, I reminded gently, “I’d like to hear about your dreams.”
“After food,” she declared as she grabbed a can of cola out of the refrigerator.
“It can’t be good news if it requires sustenance before delivery,” God declared.
I had no doubt he was right. Someone wanted Griswald dead. First, they’d tried to kill him at the cemetery (which was when Dad had been hurt). Then, they had shot up a hospital room. And then, a week ago, a team of six had converged on this very house.
Griswald didn’t know about that attempt, and I hadn’t figured out a way, yet, to tell him that a group of ninjas had incapacitated the attackers and spirited them away. It sounded ridiculous, and I doubted he’d believe me. The only way to confirm the veracity of the story would have been to tell him that a mobster’s bodyguard and a cop had been there also—and that was way too complicated.
I had, however, managed to convey my theory that they had been after him, not my father, at the hospital. While I didn’t have proof, and the hospital gunman that was in custody hadn’t confirmed anything, Griswald had moved out of the compound and back to the house he owned. Somehow, he’d convinced Aunt Susan not to go with him. She’d been rattling around, griping at everyone, including her sick father, ever since.
“Susan just brought some of this to Herschel. My chicken soup will heal whatever ails you,” Templeton bragged. “It’s better than penicillin.”
“I’m allergic to penicillin,” Armani muttered. “Anything’s better than that.”
The bitterness in her tone cut through me. Whatever she’d seen about Griswald had really upset her. I fought the urge to press her for details. There was no use trying to get information out of her until she was fed—not when Templeton was cooking. The man had a gift.
I forced myself to keep things positive as we sat down at the kitchen table. “Do you use a secret ingredient, Templeton?”
“Love,” he said. “I make all my food with love.”
“And he makes love with food,” Aunt Loretta confided, wobbling in on her stilettos and patting her fiancé’s butt.
“And there goes my appetite,” God groaned.
Considering Piss, the cat, had delivered a still-squirming cricket to him earlier, I was surprised he wasn’t stuffed.
As Templeton ladled steaming soup into bowls, Loretta told Armani, “Twenty-seven percent.”
“Great,” Armani replied in a tone that indicated it was anything but, as she poured her soda into the soup.
I looked away, repulsed, just in time to see Loretta scowl.
“I thought you’d be pleased,” my aunt pouted.
“I am,” Armani told her with zero enthusiasm.
“She’s tired from her trip to see Jack,” I interjected, trying to smooth things over.
“Ahhh,” Loretta nodded, turning her frown upside down. “A lover’s tryst can be exhausting. Eat more oysters.” Having delivered her advice, she tottered out of the room, calling, “You too, Templeton.”
Her lover had his back to us, but I could tell from the way his shoulders shook that he was laughing.
Meanwhile, Armani was chewing nervously on her cheek. Her concern about these dreams of hers was driving my anxiety about Griswald’s safety into the stratosphere. I swallowed nervously, wondering what I could do to help protect him when I didn’t even know who wanted him dead.