Stay At Home Deadby Jeffrey Allen
It's a day like any other for Deuce Winters, a stay-at-home dad in sleepy Rose Petal, Texas, where he and his three-year-old daughter Carly are making their weekly trip to the grocery store. But the discovery of a dead body in his mini-van quickly throws his quiet life into disarray. In a town where gossip spreads faster than a brush fire in July, it doesn't help that… See more details below
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It's a day like any other for Deuce Winters, a stay-at-home dad in sleepy Rose Petal, Texas, where he and his three-year-old daughter Carly are making their weekly trip to the grocery store. But the discovery of a dead body in his mini-van quickly throws his quiet life into disarray. In a town where gossip spreads faster than a brush fire in July, it doesn't help that the victim ruined Deuce's high school football career and married his ex-girlfriend. . .
As the number one suspect in the court of public opinion, Deuce is determined to clear his name, with a little help from his wife Julianne, a high-powered attorney who lovingly refers to him as her "househusband." His search for the killer leads him to a business plan gone awry and a gaggle of jilted lovers. All the while, he'll have to contend with a diminutive but feisty detective, the ruthless preschool PTA, and more than his fair share of Texas-sized hairdos--not to mention the laundry. . .
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Stay at Home Dead
By Jeffrey Allen
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Jeff Shelby
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe dead man in the backseat of my minivan wore a T-shirt that read IT'S NOT A BEER BELLY. IT'S A FUEL TANK FOR A SEX MACHINE.
A bright red arrow pointed down below those words to the purported energy source of his purported sex machine. If I'd seen him alive before he ended up in my Honda Odyssey, next to Carly's car seat, I would've called him on it. Because the gut that protruded from the bottom of the shirt did, in fact, look like a belly made round and hard from years of imbibing.
But, at that moment, I was more concerned with the blood encircling the knife in his chest, why he was in my car in the parking lot of Cooper's Market, and keeping my three-year-old daughter from seeing his corpse. I regularly found flyers and business cards on the car windows, but finding a body inside was a completely new and disconcerting experience.
"Daddy, who's the man in my car?" Carly asked, leaning over in the shopping cart to get a better look through the window.
I wheeled the cart to the back of the minivan. "Uh, I'm not sure."
"What's he doing in there?"
"Sleeping, I think."
She looked at me with her mother's big brown eyes and narrowed them just like her mother did when she knew I was full of crap. "I don't think so."
I scanned the parking lot. The usual array of minivans, SUVs, and expensive German vehicles that traversed the streets of our little suburb north of Dallas. A sign as you enter town proclaims THERE ARE NO THORNS IN ROSE PETAL!
Would the dead guy be considered a thorn?
I looked at Carly while I fished for my cell phone in the pocket of my jeans. "Why don't you think so?"
She cocked one eyebrow at me. Jeez. When had her mother taught her that one?
"Because I don't hear him snoring, Daddy," she said confidently. "Like you. You snore. That's what Mama says."
Her mama, my wife, Julianne, did claim that I snored. I, never having heard myself make any sort of noise while asleep, denied the claim vehemently.
"Well, maybe he's just being quiet," I said, punching in 9-1-1 on the cell.
Carly thought about that and tried to duck her head again to get a look in the back of the van. I swung the cart away from the van and moved into the middle of the lot. The kid was apparently developing a taste for morbidity.
"Deuce?" a voice called behind us. "Deuce Winters? What are you doing?"
The voice, as it always did, caused me to wince. I reluctantly turned around to see Darlene Andrews and her hair headed our way.
Darlene didn't just have big hair. She had monstrosity hair. Hair that could be skied upon. Hair that could be ascended. Hair that looked like waves off the North Shore. The giant blond configuration gave her head the look of a bobblehead doll as she sashayed in our direction.
"What are you doing, honey?" she asked, slinking up next to us, settling her hand on my arm and winking.
Darlene's greetings were always barbed with some sort of sexual innuendo. Maybe it was the way she swung her hips in the too-tight red pedal pushers. Or the way she thrust out her "not as large as she wanted them to be" breasts, seemingly ziplocked into a matching pink halter top. Or maybe it was the fact that ever since we'd gone to high school together, she'd been offering to take me to bed once a week.
I wasn't sure.
She reeked of Avon products and cigarette smoke. Her make-up appeared to have been layered on with a paint roller. Bright red lips. Thick purple arcs over her eyes. Brilliant pink circles over her cheeks.
I was wondering how much paint thinner she used every night to clean herself up when the 9-1-1 operator answered.
"Ah, I need to report a dead body," I said, trying to turn away from Darlene. Her two-inch-long nails dug into my flesh, though, and prevented me from getting too far.
"Excuse me, sir?" the operator asked.
"What's a dead buddy?" Carly asked.
I lifted Carly out of the cart and held her out to Darlene, raising my eyebrows and showing her a "Please help" expression. Darlene reluctantly retracted her claws from me and took Carly.
"A dead body," I repeated, attempting to step quickly out of earshot. "In my car. I'm in Rose Petal, in the parking lot of Cooper's Market."
Gum chewing in my ear. "In your car, sir?"
Darlene let out a shriek, and I turned just in time to see her raise a hand to her lips and step away from the van. Carly was leaning far out of her arms, still trying to get a closer look at who was occupying her backseat. Darlene's shriek, in addition to stirring the resting souls at every cemetery within a fifteen-mile radius, brought people running from the front of Cooper's.
"Can you just send the police, please?" I asked, shaking my head, wondering why I hadn't waited to do the grocery shopping until, say, never.
"On their way, sir," the operator responded.
I clicked off the phone and walked back to Darlene. I pried Carly out of her arms. Carly now shared Darlene's "I showered in catalog-ordered products and then went bar hopping" scent.
"Deuce!" Darlene said. "I can't believe this."
A crowd of about thirty was now standing behind her, gawking and trying to snag a look into the van. My totally uncool, but state-of-the-art minivan. Leather seats, climate-controlled interior, push button everything. Julianne called it a Porsche for stay-at-home dads. Pretty darn close.
"I know, Darlene," I said. "I know. I just called the police."
Darlene turned to me, the wide purple arcs above her eyes arched like upside-down Us. "Why did you kill Benny?"
"Benny?" I asked, confused. "What are you talking about? Benny who? I didn't kill anybody, Darlene."
The crowd seemed to move their gaze collectively from the Honda to me.
She placed one hand on her hip and pointed her other hand at the car. "Benny Barnes." She pointed again for emphasis.
I hadn't heard Benny's name in a while. Maybe I hadn't wanted to hear it, but I couldn't recall the last time I heard someone say it out loud.
I handed Carly back to Darlene and stepped in closer to the van again, peering in through the side window.
He'd put on about sixty pounds since high school, mostly in that supposed fuel tank. His face was puffy and red; his neck ringed with fat. The athletic physique I remembered was gone, replaced by a Pillsbury Doughboy–like look. I hadn't looked much at his face when Carly and I arrived at the van. The knife in his chest and the blood around it as he sat slumped in one of the captain's chairs were a little too distracting.
But Darlene was right. It was Benny.
And I was screwed.
Chapter Two"Knee still bother you?" Sheriff Cedric Cobb asked.
"Not very much," I said.
We were standing at the edge of the parking lot, watching the police technicians meander around my Honda, staring at it like it was a science project gone wrong. Carly was sitting on the edge of the curb next to me, her chin in her hands, waiting for us to be told we could go home. And Darlene was off to the side, in a crowd, reporting what she'd seen in my minivan with a hand cupped to the side of her mouth in a failed attempt at secrecy.
Cedric, though his title as sheriff was more ceremonial than anything now that Rose Petal had incorporated and had its own police force, was one of the first people to arrive. Forced into desk duty, he sought out every opportunity to get out of the office and act like a cop again. He'd been one of my father's best friends for years, and I'd known him since I was a kid.
Cedric rubbed his square jaw and cut loose a low whistle. "I remember that hit Benny laid on you. Sounded like someone snapping a pencil in half when his helmet hit your knee."
One of the problems with living in a small town, particularly a small town that reveres its sports, is that no one forgets a player or a play they did or did not make. Cedric himself was Rose Petal's unofficial high school sports historian. Benny Barnes and I had been tied by that small-minded legacy since that night during my senior year of high school when he ended my football playing days.
Cedric shook his head. "Woulda been nice to see you play at A&M."
Woulda been nice not to have had to pay for my college education, I thought. "Yep."
He shifted his weight, which at just under three hundred pounds was considerable, and squinted at me. "Bet that pissed you off, his turnin' your knee into spaghetti and all."
He was about as subtle as a stun gun. "Cedric, I haven't seen Benny in months, and I haven't said a word to him in years."
Cedric nodded slowly at that. "Sure. Just sayin', Deuce."
"Daddy, what are they doin' to my car?" Carly asked below me.
"They just have to check some things," I said, uncertain of what they were doing. "And they have to get the man out, too."
"Are they gonna wake him up?"
Cedric chuckled softly next to me.
"I'm not sure, honey."
Cedric squinted again in my direction. "How's it goin', not havin' a job and all?"
"I have a job, Cedric. I take care of my daughter."
He held up his huge hands like I was going to attack him. "Hey, don't take it the wrong way, Deuce. I'd love it if Emmy'd get her big old rear end off the sofa and get her own job so I could stay at home and do ... whatever ... all day."
The notion of a stay-at-home father was still a new idea in Rose Petal, Texas. When Carly was born, Julianne and I made a decision. She had a career that she loved and that paid her more than enough for us to live on. What I was making as a high school teacher and football coach was pocket change and would've flown out the door straight to day care. So I quit.
And most of the residents in Rose Petal still thought I'd been fired and that I had been sending out résumés with no luck for three years.
Truth was, I'd been a little nervous about it at first. I liked teaching and coaching, and I wasn't sure how I would do at home, all alone with a tiny little being that would depend on me completely. But I'd taken to it about a minute after we brought Carly home from the hospital, and I relished the reverse gender roles we'd created in our home.
Didn't mean I liked to take any crap about it, though.
"I have a job, Cedric," I said again, the familiar bristle of irritation tickling my stomach. "I take care of my daughter."
Cedric chuckled, nodding, his fat cheeks jiggling. "Sure, sure, Deuce. I got it." He paused. "Hey, I got up at five thirty this morning to get to work. What time you get outta bed? To go to work?"
"We get up at eight o'clock," Carly announced.
We'd been talking about time recently. Apparently, she'd started to figure it out.
Cedric made a face, nodding like that seemed about right. "Eight o'clock. Boy, oh boy."
"Shut up, Cedric," I muttered.
"Uh-oh." He aimed his chin at a younger guy in a suit and dark glasses, inspecting the rear of the van. "You're gonna have fun with that boy."
"Willie Bell," Cedric said. "Detective Willie Bell. Serious as a hurricane, but dumber than a puddle of spit. That is unlucky that he pulled this one. Unlucky for you."
Detective Willie Bell stood a few feet behind my van. He removed his sunglasses, sweeping them off his face dramatically, then sticking the arm of the glasses into his mouth. He was speaking with one of the technicians, who pointed in our direction. Bell followed his direction and headed our way.
"Oh boy," Cedric said, grinning. "This'll be entertaining."
Bell stopped in front of us. A couple inches shorter than me at six feet, slim, a brush-top crew cut. His skin was pink, like he'd just finished shaving. Short, stubby nose and wide eyes shaped like eggs. His getup was right out of a cop show from the seventies. An orange polyester short-sleeve dress shirt paired with hideous gray polyester pants that were an inch too short at his feet, exposing white socks under black lace-ups.
He looked me up and down, the glasses still in his mouth. Then he swept the glasses up and slid them onto his face.
Which I thought was sorta funny because the sun was behind him.
"You the owner of the vehicle?" he asked, his voice carrying the fake tone of a radio adman, deeper than his real voice, like he was about to offer me the deal of a lifetime on a used car.
"Yes," I said.
"Gonna need to ask you some questions," he said. "Tough ones."
"I'll try hard."
Bell raised a thick, furry eyebrow above the glasses. "Don't get smart with me, sir. This is a criminal investigation and a very serious matter."
"Deuce is all right, Willie," Cedric said. "Just be cool."
Bell ignored him. "Tell me what happened."
I explained coming out of the store and finding Benny in the car.
"What were you doing shopping in the middle of the day?" Bell asked.
"We grocery shop every Tuesday morning."
"Ah. So you're unemployed?"
Cedric cleared his throat.
"I take care of my daughter," I said. "I stay home with her."
"Can't find a job?" Bell persisted. "Maybe you're a little angry about that?"
What I was angry about was having my morning filled with bozos.
"I'm not looking for a job," I said. I pointed down at Carly. "Taking care of my daughter is my job."
She smiled up at Willie Bell. "We get up at eight o'clock."
Bell didn't acknowledge her, which is exactly when I cemented my opinion of him. Tough to like a guy who doesn't acknowledge a cute three-year-old.
"Hmm. Don't know about that," Bell said.
"Know about what?"
"Your denial of anger, sir. I hear you and the victim had some history," Bell said, folding his arms across his chest and tilting his chin up. "Care to fill me in?"
I held out my hand to Carly. She reached up, grabbed it, and pulled herself up. I smiled at her.
Then I looked at Willie Bell. "Actually, no. Sounds like you already know what you need to know. So I think I'm done." I looked at Cedric, who shrugged and waddled away.
Bell put his hands on his hips. "I'll tell you when you're done, mister."
"No," I said as Carly and I walked away from him to the other end of the parking lot. "You can tell my lawyer when we're done."
Chapter Three"So I'm gonna need a lawyer," I said.
"Good thing you married one, then," my wife, Julianne, said.
We were sitting at the kitchen table, about to dig into a pizza that had just arrived. Carly was in her booster seat, sipping from a bendy straw and stacking the half dozen thin strips of pizza I'd cut for her into a tower. Julianne had been home for fifteen minutes. Time enough for her to change into sweats and a T-shirt, to decompress from her job as a partner in a high-end Dallas law firm, and for me to explain our day, right up to the abrupt end of my conversation with Detective Bell.
"Guy was a total j-e-r-k," I said, slapping two pieces of pizza onto my plate.
Carly eyed me suspiciously. She'd picked up on the fact that when we spelled words in her presence, there was a reason for it.
"Did you just spell a bad word?" she asked.
"Then what was it you were spelling?"
I looked to Julianne. I blamed her for birthing an intelligent child.
"Your daddy just likes to spell, honey," she said, sliding into the chair across from me. "Makes him feel smart."
Carly nodded, as if, yes, she recognized my need to feel smart, then went back to building her leaning tower of pizza.
"And they impounded the van?" Julianne asked.
"Yes," I said. "I got Cedric to take us over to get the rental. Then I had to go and buy another car seat to get us home."
"When was the last time you saw Benny?" Julianne asked, picking up the glass of Shiner Light I'd poured for her. I say glass because if I ever even suggested that Julianne Winters might drink beer from a bottle, I would probably never be given the opportunity to sleep with her again. She's kinda weird that way.
"Don't even know."
I thought about it. I could remember plenty of times in high school seeing his ugly mug staring at me from the other side of the line. And I certainly recalled the night he turned my knee into Silly Putty. In a small town like Rose Petal, I saw him once in a while, but it was always in passing and we didn't speak. It was uncomfortable, and both of us hurried to be the first one to look away.
Excerpted from Stay at Home Dead 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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