Popped Offby Jeffrey Allen
For stay-at-home dad Deuce Winters, the cutthroat world of suburban kiddie sports leagues is unavoidable. In his small town of Rose Petal, Texas, Moises Huber is known as the King of Soccer. But it seems the king may have fallen from his throne when he disappears--along with $73,000 of the Rose Petal Youth Soccer Association's registration fees. Deuce calls foul and begins a bizarre search that leads him to a high-stakes gambling ring, a band of shrewd smugglers, and one heckuva Texas-sized mega church. As he closes in on the truth, Deuce has only one goal in mind: stay on the ball and out of the penalty zone before his opponent can make a killer pass--and still have dinner ready on time. . .
"Laugh-out-loud funny. A terrific read!" --Laura Levine on Stay at Home Dead
Read an Excerpt
By Jeffrey Allen
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Jeff Shelby
All right reserved.
Chapter One"The King of Soccer is missing," Julianne said into my ear.
I was standing on the sideline, sweating, concentrating on the swarm of tiny girls chasing after a soccer ball. As the head coach of my daughter's soccer team, the Mighty, Fightin', Tiny Mermaids, it was my sworn duty to scream myself silly on Saturday afternoons, hoping they might play a little soccer rather than chase butterflies and roll around in the grass. As usual, I was failing.
I gave my wife a quick glance. "What?"
"The King of Soccer is missing," she repeated.
Before I could respond, my five-year-old daughter, Carly, sprinted toward me from the center of the field, ponytail and tiny cleats flying all around her.
"Daddy," she said, huffing and puffing. "How am I doing?"
I held my hand out for a high five. "Awesome, dude."
She nodded as if she already knew. "Good. Hey, are we almost done?"
"About ten more minutes."
She thought about that for a moment, shrugged, and said, "Oh. Okay." Then she turned and sprinted back to the mass of girls surrounding the ball.
Except for the ones holding hands and skipping around the mass of girls surrounding the ball.
I took a deep breath, swallowed the urge to yell something soccer-ish, and turned back to Julianne. "What?"
She was attempting to smother a smile and failing. "Sorry. Didn't mean to interrupt the strategy session, Coach."
She put her hand on my arm. "I was trying to warn you. Moises Huber is missing."
Moises Huber, aka the King of Soccer, was the president of the Rose Petal Youth Soccer Association. He oversaw approximately two hundred teams across all age groups, close to two thousand kids, five hundred volunteers, and about a billion obnoxious parents.
He was also a bit of a jerk.
"Hasn't been seen in three days, and Belinda wants to talk to you about it."
I shifted my attention back to the game. Carly broke free from the pack with the ball and loped toward the open goal. My heart jumped, and I moved down the sideline with her. "Go! Keep going!"
Several of the girls trailed behind her, laughing and giggling, not terribly concerned that they were about to be scored upon.
Carly approached the goal, settled the ball in front of herself, shuffled her feet, and took a mighty swing at the ball.
It glanced off the side of her foot and rolled wide of the goal and over the touchline.
My heart sank, and the gaggle of parents behind me in the bleachers groaned.
Carly turned in my direction, grinned, and gave me a thumbs-up. I smiled back at her through the pain and returned the thumbs-up.
She sprinted back toward her teammates.
Maybe we needed to practice a little more.
I walked back up the sideline to Julianne. "Why does she want to talk to me about it?"
"I think it has to do with you being a superb private eye and all," Julianne said.
"I'm not a private eye."
"Those fancy cards you and Victor hand out beg to differ, Coach."
After successfully proving my innocence in the murder of an old high school rival, I'd reluctantly joined forces with Victor Anthony Doolittle in his investigation business. On a very, very, very limited basis. We were still trying to figure out if we could coexist, and the jury was still deliberating.
I frowned. "What does missing mean? Like he's not here today?"
Julianne shrugged. "Dunno. But you can ask her yourself." She tilted her chin in the direction of the sideline. "She's coming your way, Coach." She kissed me on the cheek. "And don't forget. We have a date tonight."
"A date?" I asked.
"Well, a date sounds classier than using you for sex," she said, slipping her sunglasses over her eyes. "But call it what you like. Coach." She gave a small wave and walked away.
I started to say something about being objectified— and how I was in favor of it—but Belinda Stansfield's gargantuan body ate up the space Julianne had just vacated.
"Deuce," Belinda said in between huffs and puffs. "Need your help."
Her crimson cheeks were drenched in sweat, and her gray T-shirt was ringed with perspiration. Actually, it appeared as if all 350 pounds of Belinda were ringed in perspiration.
She ran a meaty hand over her wet forehead and smoothed her coarse brown hair away from her face. She took another huff—or maybe it was a puff—and set her hands on her expansive hips.
"Middle of a game here, Belinda," I said, moving my gaze back to the field, which I found far more pleasant. "Can't it wait?"
"No can do, Deuce," she said. "This is serious business."
Carly tackled one of the opposing girls, literally threw her arms around her and took her to the grass. They dissolved into a pile of laughter as the ball squirted by them.
"Um, so is this, Belinda."
"Oh, please, honey," she said, shading her eyes from the sun. "These little girls care more about what's in the cooler after the game than the score. And these parents don't know a goal from a goose. You are a babysitter with a whistle. Get over yourself."
Couldn't have put it better myself.
"What's up?" I asked.
"Moe's done and gone and disappeared."
"Like, from the fields?"
"Like, from Rose Petal."
Tara Little started crying and ran past me to her parents. We were now down a Fightin' Mermaid.
"Today's Saturday," she said, swiping again at the sweat covering her face. "Last anyone saw him was Wednesday."
"Maybe he went on vacation," I said.
"Maybe he's taking a long nap."
"Deuce. I am not kidding."
The pimple-faced referee blew his whistle, and the girls ran faster than they'd run the entire game. They sprinted past me to the bleachers, where a cooler full of drinks and something made entirely of sugar awaited them. Serious soccer players, these little girls.
I took a deep breath, tired from yelling and baking in the sun, and adjusted the visor on my head. "Okay. So he's missing."
She nodded, oceans of sweat cascading down her chubby face. "And there's something else you should know."
I watched the girls, red-faced and exhausted, sitting next to each other on the metal bleachers, sucking down juice boxes, munching on cookies, and swinging their legs back and forth.
There were worse ways to spend a Saturday.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Seventy-three thousand bucks," Belinda said.
"What? What are you talking about?"
She shifted her enormous body from one tree stump of a leg to the other.
"Moe's missing," Belinda said. "And he took seventy-three thousand dollars with him."
Chapter Two"All the summer and fall registration fees," Belinda said. "Gone."
The girls were now chasing one another, the parents were chatting, and Belinda and I were sitting on the bottom of the bleachers.
"How is that possible?" I asked. "He just walked away with that much in cash?"
"The bank accounts are empty," she said. "They were full on Tuesday. Before he disappeared."
"Could be a coincidence."
"And I could be a ballerina," she said, raising an eyebrow. "It ain't a coincidence, Deuce."
No, it probably wasn't a coincidence. She was right about that.
"Don't you guys have some sort of control in place for that kind of thing?" I asked. "I mean, with the accounts. Multiple signatures or something like that?"
She shook her head. "Nope. Last year, when Moe was reelected, he demanded full oversight. The board didn't like it, but he said he'd walk without it. So they gave it to him."
"Why did he want it?"
I spied Carly attaching herself to Julianne's leg. She was crying. Carly, not Julianne. Crying had become common after soccer games, the result of too much sugar and some physical exertion. It was less about being upset with something and more about it just being time to get home.
"I want to hire you, Deuce," she said. "We want to hire you. The board. To find him and the money. You and that little dwarf, or whatever he is."
A smile formed on my lips. I wished Victor was there to hear her description of him.
"I'll need to talk to Victor," I told her. "The little dwarf. To make sure he's okay with it."
"You two got so much work you're turning away business?"
As a matter of fact, we did. Or rather, Victor did. Since our initial escapade, people had been seeking us out left and right. My agreement with Victor allowed me the flexibility to work only when I wanted to. Fortunately, he'd been more than capable of handling most of the work and I'd been left alone to play Mr. Mom to Carly.
"No," I said, attempting to be diplomatic. "But we don't take anything on unless both of us agree."
She thought about that for a moment, then nodded.
Then her stomach growled.
"There's one more thing," she said.
"We can't pay you."
I pinched the bridge of my nose. "That's gonna be a problem, Belinda. The little dwarf likes money. He tends not to work without it."
"I mean, we can't pay you up front," she clarified. "Everything we got, Moe took. You find him and the money, we'll pay you whatever we owe you."
I knew Victor was going to have a coronary over that.
"I'll talk to Victor and see what I can do," I said, standing.
She pushed her girth up off the bleachers, wobbled for a minute, then steadied herself. She wiped a massive hand across her wet brow.
"Well, I hope you can do something, Deuce," she said, a sour expression settling on her face. "Because that money? That's all we got. It doesn't come back, soccer don't come back."
"We are totally fee driven. Nothing in reserve. So unless you wanna foot the bill for uniforms and trophies and field space and insurance and who the heck knows what else, we need that money."
I glanced over at the remaining girls. Carly had detached herself from Julianne and was now playing some bastardized version of tag. Her team wasn't very good at soccer, but that didn't stop me from espousing the virtues of team sports at a young age. They weren't winning games, but I believed they were getting something out of playing.
"Why would he take the money, Belinda?" I asked.
"I got no idea," she said, shaking her head. "I really don't, Deuce. But we gotta have the money back. Now him?" She waved a hand in the air. "I couldn't care less whether that weasel comes back."
Her eyes narrowed. "You don't know him all that well, do you?"
I shrugged. I knew him from around town and from soccer meetings. A little pompous, but other than that, I didn't think much at all about him.
"No," I admitted. "I guess not."
"Weasel," she said. "Pure weasel."
"Because that's the way the good Lord made him," she said, frowning. "Or Satan. Whichever."
"So you aren't surprised he took the money, then?" I asked.
"I'm a little surprised," she said. "Because I didn't think even he'd pull something like this. But you know what's more surprising?"
I looked past her. Julianne now had Carly in her arms and was waving at me. I was ready to go home and be objectified.
"Uh, no. What's more surprising?"
She hiked up her ill-fitting shorts and looked me dead in the eye.
"That no one's killed that weasel yet."
Chapter Three"You're kidding, right?" I asked as I loaded the soccer gear into the back of the minivan. Julianne and Carly were already settled in their seats. "Why would anyone want to kill Huber?"
"I'm just sayin'," Belinda said in between huffs and puffs, "he's not the most liked fella around Rose Petal."
"A lotta people aren't the most liked, Belinda. That doesn't mean they have a hit out on them."
She shaded her eyes from the sun, a drop of sweat hanging from the tip of her nose. "Lotsa reasons. A biggie?" She leaned closer to me, and I tried not to shrink away. "He cheats at poker."
"Poker. He cheats."
I closed the back of the minivan. "What are you talking about?"
"Don't you play in one of them games? Where all you daddies get together and pretend to be manly and play poker?"
I did, in fact. Last Friday of every month. A tight group of friends, we rotated homes and played until the wee hours of the morning, drinking beer, making fun of one another, and taking each other's money. It was less about the poker and more about the need to do some serious male bonding. Kind of like the kids and their soccer, but with more cursing and beer.
"Well, he used to play in a regular game," Belinda said, "but they found out he was cheating. Kicked his butt out."
"If it was anything like my game, you're expected to cheat."
She shook her head. "No. This was different. They played for stakes bigger than your daughter's lunch money." She nodded, as if confirming to herself what she was saying was true. "Ask around. You'll find out."
I knew that was true. Rose Petal wasn't big, and nearly everyone knew something about someone else's business. It was a fishbowl of sorts. And I had to admit as she was telling me this, I was surprised that I hadn't heard some version of Huber's cheating already.
"I'll get back to you, Belinda," I said, pulling the keys out of my pocket. "No promises, though. I have to talk to Victor first."
"I'll sit on him," she said.
"I'll sit on that little man if that's what it takes to get him to agree," she said.
"I'll pass that along."
Belinda waddled away across the now empty parking lot, as everyone else had packed up and gone home. I slid into the driver's seat, shoved the key into the ignition, and fired up the air-conditioning.
"She is a large woman," Julianne said.
"And then some."
"She wants you to look for the King?"
"And you said?"
"That I had to talk with Victor first."
I backed out of the stall and headed out of the lot. I glanced in the rearview mirror. Carly was red-faced, and her eyes were glazed over. She was exhausted. Which meant a nap was on the horizon. Which meant ...
"We may get some alone time," Julianne whispered.
"Was just thinking the same thing."
"You sure you aren't too tired, Coach?" She moved her hand and rested it on my thigh.
I smiled. "I'm so irresistible, aren't I?"
She lifted her hand. "I just need you to make the next baby. You're a conduit."
I glanced at her, and she wore the smirk she always wore that put me in my place.
We were ready for another child. We'd relished the first five years alone with Carly, and we'd done that on purpose. She was our first, and we wanted to dote on her, give her as much attention as possible. And we wanted to be rested before the second one came along. Not that Carly was a tough kid—she wasn't—but any child will wear you out as he or she goes from infancy to toddlerhood to kindergarten.
People looked at us a little strangely. In Rose Petal you were expected to follow one kid with another, and then maybe another, so that your house was filled with small people all under the age of five. But Julianne and I had stood our ground against the peer pressure and had stuck to our plan.
However, it was time to enact phase two of our plan. Which, you know, I was kinda looking forward to. I wasn't going to mind if it took a while. Practice makes perfect.
I pointed the minivan in the direction of our home and tried to obey the speed limit. This was a hard thing to do, particularly when I saw Carly nod off in her car seat.
"She's out," I whispered.
"I know," Julianne whispered back. Her smirk morphed into a smile, and my foot slammed harder on the accelerator.
I slowed down enough so as not to cause the van to go airborne as we pulled into the driveway, and eased it into the garage. I kept the engine running until the garage door was down behind us, then shut off the ignition. Carly wasn't exactly a light sleeper, but she didn't need a lot of encouragement to wake up, either.
"I'll run her upstairs," I said.
"I'll be in the living room."
"The living room?"
The smile grew devilish. "We can be a little . . . noisier in the living room."
Oh, my. "I'll meet you there."
I managed to open the van doors, remove Carly from her seat, and get her into my arms without her stirring. I gave Julianne a thumbs-up, turned, and walked as quickly as I could into the house, up the stairs, and into her room. I laid her down on her bed and she squirmed a little, settling onto the blankets, but kept her eyes shut, smacking her lips.
I paused and smiled. It would be nice to have another of those. I liked being a dad. Even better, I loved being a dad who got to stay home with Carly, far more than I ever anticipated I would. Everyone had warned me that adding a second child to the mix might change my mind, but I was willing to take that chance.
If only because phase two sounded like so much fun.
I bounded down the stairs, careful to keep my footsteps light. I kicked off my sneakers, tossed my socks on top, and found Julianne stretched out on the sofa.
Excerpted from Popped Off by Jeffrey Allen Copyright © 2012 by Jeff Shelby. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
JEFF ALLEN is a columnist for Dancing USA magazine and the author of four books on social and ballroom dancing. He holds Membership credentials with the North American Dance Teachers Association, Inc., and the Pan American Teachers Association. After competing in national and international competitions and winning the Gold closed level at the North American Championships, Jeff turned professional in 1984. However, he considers his greatest accomplishments to be the more than 30 Top Teacher awards he has won and being listed among the top teachers in America by DVIDA as a Regional examiner and teacher trainer.
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Would recommend this author.
Down-right funny! This was a down-right funny read and a very good combination of clever mystery plot and hilarious situations, frothing with lough-out-loud dialogues, quirky characters (how to forget Deuce's dad ranting over Facebook, the midgety business partner Victor, or the air-headed but ruthless girls from the college sorority group) and, surprisingly, even with some very tender and romantic moments, the more so intriguing because written from a male's point of view. I am really starting to appreciate the comedic relief of the cozy mystery genre and I strongly believe that the ability of injecting spot-on humor in every compartment of a story (plot, characterization, dialogues) takes natural talent as well as a considerable amount of writing skills. Therefore I wholeheartedly recommend The Stay At Home Dad Mysteries series. Pick it up from the prequel (Stay At Home Dead, book #1) and keep an eye on the upcoming third installment Father Knows Death, book #3. Extended review available on Mina's Bookshelf
“Popped Off” is a follow up to the first novel in this series, which I have not yet read. However, I totally enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading the first in this series. Deuce Winters is a SAHD that works on the side as a PI. The witty sense of humor that Allen uses had me turning the pages and keeping up with the story. I enjoyed the banter between Deuce and his business partner Victor, the love he showed for his daughter and wife, and the frustration he had with his retired parents and FaceBook. All in all, it is a great, easy ready!
I have read both in this series and find it somewhat enjoyable. If you are tired of your usual cozy mystery then pick this series up for a little bit of a change. Its a story of a stay at home dad who is also his young daughters soccer coach. The president of the soccer association has taken off with the association's money and disappears. Since this stay at home dad is also a part time private investigator, he is asked by the soccer association to quietly look into what happened. For those of us readers that are also soccer parents, this is an eaay story to relate to. Some really good twists are placed within the story to keep the reader entertained. There is gambling, marital affairs, college students with very strange ways of starting up their own business(there is a big hint for you!) and tons of dialogue with heavy sarcasm. If it wasn't for the many twists and strange characters then this book may have been quite boring.....but it isn't. Get past the boring soccer parent/association drama and it becomes a good story all on its own. I would recommend this cozy mystery!!
Cat name: Blackwind (I used this in my former roleplay)