Fortunate Son

Fortunate Son

by J.D. Rhoades

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781947993105
Publisher: Polis Books
Publication date: 08/28/2018
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Born and raised in North Carolina, J.D. Rhoades has worked as a radio news reporter, club DJ, television cameraman, ad salesman, waiter, attorney, and newspaper columnist. His weekly column in North Carolina’s The Pilot was twice named best column of the year in its division. He is the author of five novels in his acclaimed Jack Keller series: The Devil’s Right Hand, Good Day in Hell, Safe and Sound, Devil and Dust, Ice Chest, Breaking Cover, and Broken Shield. He lives, writes, and practices law in Carthage, NC.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The day that Tyler Welch learned his real name, he was up before the dawn and on the road as the sun came up. Two-a-day football practices were scheduled to start in three weeks, and he'd been dismayed when he looked down and saw what he was sure was a roll of fat — a small one, to be sure, but still a roll — forming around his belly. A summer job at Quizno's wasn't something that promoted maximum fitness, and he suddenly felt guilty for every Peppercorn Steak sub he'd sucked down on one of his too-brief meal breaks instead of a healthier turkey sandwich, or even a salad. Football practices in late summer North Carolina heat and humidity were going to be unforgiving enough without carrying extra pounds, and Tyler wanted that starting quarterback slot in his senior year of high school more than he wanted oxygen.

He could hear his parents moving about in their bedroom as he slipped out of the house. The morning was still cool, but muggy, foreshadowing the oppressive blanket of heat and moisture that would descend as the sun rose. Tyler performed a few brief stretches, impatient to get on the road, before ascending the brief slope of shady driveway that led to the main road. He paused a moment, looking back at the modest brick house he shared with his parents and younger sister. He took no notice of the faded and dented black Firebird that passed by, slowed, then sped up and accelerated away down the long stretch of country road that ran by the house.

He started at a fast walk, ramping up quickly to a slow jog. He couldn't seem to find the rhythm, that coordination of stride and breath and effort that would eventually lift him up and carry him along as if of its own accord. Every step thudded on the hard-packed earth by the roadside, every breath rasped in his lungs. Gradually, though, he began to fall into the old familiar groove, and he smiled as he picked up the pace. He was so pleased to be back in the swing of things that he didn't notice the black Firebird as it passed him again, going the other way. It was good to be just turned eighteen and alive and rocking along in fine — if not perfect — shape under a hazy pale-blue Carolina morning sky, with nothing but possibilities ahead.

He'd almost completed his second mile by the time he finally noticed the black Firebird, and only then when it passed by, moving slowly. Tyler caught a glimpse of the driver's face, pale under a shock of thick black hair, before the vehicle was past him. It slowed, then pulled over to the side of the road, blocking his path. Tyler pulled up to a stop, his brow furrowed in annoyance. He'd just gotten going, and now this asshole was in his way.

The paint on the old Pontiac was peeling in spots and discolored in others. The golden outline of the mythical bird on the hood had faded to a pale yellow, the left rear quarter panel dented. The driver got out and stood in the open door for a moment, looking at Tyler. He looked to be in his early twenties, painfully thin, dressed in ragged blue jeans and a long-sleeved plaid shirt that was too heavy for summer. The eyes that looked out at him from under the thick fringe of his hair were a brilliant blue that looked disturbingly familiar to Tyler. He didn't know who this guy was, but he gave Tyler the creeps. He'd been well-raised by a good Southern family, however, and his default mode was courtesy.

"Hey," he said. "Do you need help?"

The driver didn't speak for a moment. Finally, he smiled. The lopsided smile looked familiar, too. "Get in the car, Keith," he said. He raised his right arm, and Tyler saw the gun for the first time.

"That ... that's not my name," Tyler answered, his eyes fixed on the barrel of the weapon. Despite the rising sun's heat, he felt cold in the pit of his stomach.

"I know your name, Keith," the driver said. "I know it better than you do. Get in."

Tyler thought of running. He knew he was fast, but no one was really faster than a speeding bullet. He had a brief thought of charging the gunman, taking the gun away, beating his assailant into the ground. But the cold black circle of that gun barrel was enough to crush any illusions Tyler might have had about being a hero. This wasn't a movie. He knew he had to get into the car, but his legs didn't seem to want to work.

"Get in, little brother," the gunman said. "I'm not gonna tell you again."

Tyler felt a sudden stirring of long-repressed memory triggered by the word "brother." He knew where he'd seen those eyes, that smile before. "Mick?"

The gunman smiled. "That's me."

"Holy ... where have you been, man?"

The smile slipped a little. "Here and there."

Tyler was having trouble believing it. Mick had dropped out of his life years ago. Tyler had thought about him for years. Until he'd stopped. He felt a twinge of guilt. "It ... it's good to see you." He gestured toward the gun. "Except for that, I mean."

The man looked down at the gun, then back up. "Yeah. Sorry. Didn't know how you'd react. You bein' an upstanding citizen and all now." The gun never wavered.

Tyler swallowed. "Why don't you put it down?"

"My doctor told me I got trust issues. Now get in the car."

"Where ... where are we going?" Tyler said.

"To find Mama. She needs us."

"I have a ..." Tyler almost said "mother," but the way the gunman's eyes narrowed stopped him.

"Okay," he said. "Okay. I'll come with you. Just be cool, okay?" The gunman gave him that lopsided grin again. "Oh, we're cool, Keith. We're way cool. Now come on. There's not much time."

* * *

"Jesus," the man with the headphones said. "He's really beating the shit out of her."

He glanced over at Chance, who'd put on her own headset. She gritted her teeth at the sound of another blow hitting flesh. "We need to do something," she said.

The woman inside the house was no longer crying out, no longer pleading or cajoling. They couldn't tell if she was unconscious or dead, or if she was just riding it out. The voice of the man administering the beating was raised, but they couldn't make out the words, he was shouting so angrily.

"We need to do something." Chance said again. She whipped off her headphones and started towards the door of the room where they'd set up their surveillance. It was the front parlor of an abandoned house across the street from their target, and Chance's boots echoed on the hardwood floorboards in the empty space.

"Hold it!" the DEA agent with the headphones barked. "We spent weeks getting authorization for this surveillance. I'm not blowing it for some minor domestic disturbance."

"Minor? He's going to kill her!"

"If he does, then we've got him. But right now, Deputy Cahill, you need to remember you are here as a courtesy to local law enforcement. This is a DEA operation, not some country barn dance gone wrong. You fuck this up and I'll charge you with interfering in a federal investigation. So you just stand the fuck down."

Chance stared for a moment, her hand on the front door. She let the hand fall away. "You really are a prick, Winslow," she said.

"Yeah, no shit," Winslow said. "Welcome to the big time, Deputy Cahill." He cocked his head, looking for all the world like a dog who'd just been asked if he wanted to go out. "It's over, anyway."

Chance could hear the bang of the screen door from across the street.

She stole a glance through the ragged curtain and milky glass of the front door. Their target was striding down the walkway of the tiny wood- frame house, his face still clenched with anger. He got into an aging black Mercedes convertible with the top down. In this neighborhood of New Orleans, known as Arabi, the car, even old as it was, stuck out like an evening gown in a dive bar. The fact that it hadn't been stolen or stripped was evidence the owner was connected. Chance could see him grip the wheel, staring straight ahead. Slowly, he lowered his head to rest on the steering wheel. It was all Chance could do not to yank the door open, walk over to the Mercedes, pull the son of a bitch out of that fancy car, and cuff his sorry ass before hauling him off to jail. "Someday soon, Charleyboy," she whispered, "Someday real soon."

"That's the spirit," Winslow said. The man in the Mercedes straightened up, started the engine, and pulled away from the curb.

"We should at least check and see that she's not dead," Chance said. She didn't trust herself to look at Winslow.

"She's not." Winslow reached under the console and pulled out a small black cellphone. "But let me set your mind at ease." He punched speed dial.

* * *

Savannah heard the soft vibration of the cheap burner phone she'd stashed beneath the cushions of the faded couch. Slowly, grimacing with the pain in her ribs and stomach, she got on her hands and knees and pulled it out. "I'm okay," she said without preliminaries.

"You sure?" Winslow said.

She reached over and fished a Marlboro Light out of the crumpled pack on the coffee table. "I didn't use the safe word, did I?" She lit the cigarette. She didn't know if her hands were shaking from the fear or the hangover that made her head pound along with the throbbing in her ribs.

"No." He almost sounded proud of her. "You didn't. Hang in there, Savannah. This'll all be over soon."

She took a drag on the cigarette. The smoke, as always, calmed her nerves. "And we get our immunity when this is over. Both of us."

"You do. What happens to Charleyboy depends on how well he plays along."

"He'll play along," she said. "When he finds out what I've done, he'll have to."

"You're being really brave here, Savannah."

Jesus, he was really laying it on thick. She barked out a short, bitter laugh. "Yeah. Right." She took another drag on the cigarette. "You find out about the other thing? About my boys?"

"We're working on it. I promise."

She sat up. "You'd better come through on this, Winslow. Or you get nothin'. You hear me?"

There was a brief pause. Winslow's voice when he spoke had lost even the false warmth he'd shown earlier. "You don't want to be making threats, Savannah. You're not in a real strong position here."

Don't I know it, she thought. That's why I'm doing my own search. My own way. "Just remember what I said." It sounded weak and pitiful even to her. She broke the connection. She shoved the burner back beneath the couch, then sat there on the floor, her knees pulled up to her chest. She finished the cigarette, staring at the peeling wallpaper.

* * *

"Home sweet home," Mick said as they pulled up in front of the house.

"How'd you know where I live?" Tyler said.

"I know a lot about you, lil' bro," Mick said. "Big football star, huh?"

"I do all right." He felt absurdly defensive about it. From the sound of it, Mick — if it was Mick, which he still had trouble believing — had had a harder life than him. He felt that twinge of guilt again.

"Oh, don't be so modest, Keith. You're supposed to be All-State this year." He got out. "Come on. You're going to need to get some things."

"What do you mean?" Tyler got out on his own side.

"We're going to need some cash," he said. "And I reckon you're going to want to at least pack a toothbrush and a change of underwear."

"Wait a minute," Tyler said. "I've got a little money, but —" "And I'm betting these nice folks with this nice house have a lot more."

Tyler stopped. "I'm not stealing from them!"

"Okay," Mick said. "Then I will."

Tyler set his jaw. "Like hell." He started for Mick.

Almost lazily, Mick raised the gun and pointed it at Tyler's face. "Now, now," he said. "Is that any way for a preacher's boy to talk?"

"They're my parents, Mick."

"No," Mick said, "they're not." He lowered the gun slightly.

"They raised me. They took care of me. A lot better than ..." He stopped. He'd tried to forget about his biological mother, and his parents had provided scant information about her. All she knew was that she'd walked away from him. But he couldn't say that now. The gun was aimed straight at his face again, Mick's finger tight on the trigger. His eyes were full of fury. That was a look Tyler remembered. He was beginning to believe.

"You want to watch what you say, little brother," Mick said, his voice tight. "Mama's in trouble. She needs us. And we're going to help her."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'll explain later," Mick said. "Now get a move on."

Tyler's hand trembled as he opened the door. He imagined he could feel exactly where the gun was pointed at his back, could almost feel where the bullet would go in. He went inside, Mick close behind him.

"Nice place," Mick said as they entered the living room.

"Thanks," Tyler replied, then immediately felt foolish, not knowing if Mick was being sarcastic.

"Must be good money in this preachin' game." Mick walked over to the mantel above the fireplace. He scanned the photos there: Tyler in his football uniform. A much younger Tyler under a Christmas tree covered with uneven lumps of tinsel. A picture of Tyler between his mother and father, proudly holding up a newly caught fish. Mick took that one off the mantel and looked down at it.

"Don't," Tyler blurted out.

Mick looked up. "Don't what?" he said. "Don't even look? Your mommy and daddy," he almost spat the words, "too good for me to even look at?" Tyler didn't answer, just looked at him helplessly. "Or you think I'm going to break it? That what you think of me?" He put the picture back on the mantelpiece with exaggerated care. "They must have made me out to be some kind of evil motherfucker, lil' bro."

Actually, Tyler thought, nobody's even mentioned you for years. He kept silent.

"Come on," Mick said impatiently. "Get your shit. And the money." He followed Tyler into his room. His eyes were expressionless as he surveyed the football posters on the wall, the shelves of trophies, the cases of ribbons, but Tyler felt he was being judged nonetheless.

"Well, don't just stand there," Mick said.

"Look," Tyler said, "There's money in my dresser. I saved it up. It's almost five hundred bucks. Just take it and go."

"Now where'd you get that kind of cash?"

"Working. Working at Quizno's."

"And how long it take you to save up almost five hundred?"

"I don't know. A few months."

Mick smiled. "And in just a few minutes, it's going to be all mine," he said. "All that work seems kinda pointless now, don't it?" He walked over and patted Tyler on the shoulder. "I can tell I got a lot to teach you about how the world works." It was the closest that Mick had approached so far. Tyler seized the opportunity. He swung at Mick's chin as hard as he could. The blow connected solidly, knocking Mick's head to one side. Just as quickly, however, Mick whirled back, his right hand whipping the gun across Tyler's face. Before he knew what was happening, Tyler was on his knees, his head reverberating from an explosion of pain. He tasted the coppery tang of blood in his mouth and felt a slow, warm trickle of blood down his cheek. He felt the barrel of the gun against his temple.

"You're family, Keith," Mick said softly. "My own flesh and blood. Which is why your brains aren't all over that wall right now. But don't. Push. Me."

"That's ... not my name," Tyler whispered. He felt tears mingling with the blood on his face.

There was a long pause. At that moment, Tyler knew he'd gone too far. He knew he was going to die. He began to pray softly. "Our father, who art in heaven ..."

Mick interrupted him. "It's a good thing I'm here," he said. "Else you might have forgotten who you are."

The gun barrel was suddenly gone. Tyler didn't look up. "Hallowed be thy name ..." he whispered.

Then Mick was back, kneeling beside him. Tyler turned to look, his eyes bleak and hopeless. Mick held a towel in his left hand. He pressed it against Tyler's cheek almost tenderly. "Here," he said, "let me look." Tyler was numb with shock at the sudden display of concern. He winced slightly as Mick wiped away the blood. "You got any Band-Aids?"

"In the bathroom. Cabinet above the sink." Tyler slowly got to his feet as he heard Mick rummaging in the medicine cabinet. He thought of trying to run. Later he would wonder if it was fear or guilt that stopped him.

Mick came out of the bathroom with the box in one hand. He put the gun down on the dresser by the bathroom door. "You can't hit no harder'n that," he grinned, "guess I got nothin' to worry about." He shook some bandages out of the box and began taking them out of their wrappers. "Don't look so shocked, Keith," he said as he began applying them to the wound on his cheekbone. "Who do you think used to patch you up when you were little?"

"I don't know. I don't remember."

"That was me, little brother," Mick said. "I took care of you. And now I need your help." He put the last of the bandages in place and took Tyler's shoulder. He looked into his brother's face earnestly. "Mama needs your help, too."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Fortunate Son"
by .
Copyright © 2018 J.D. Rhoades.
Excerpted by permission of Polis Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Fortunate Son 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Ludwigrocker More than 1 year ago
If your a fan of J.D.'s Keller series, then Fortunate Son, will be right up your ally. Highly recommend this one. It's a story of seeking forgiveness, redemption, and a love story on many levels. From first page to the last page, J.D. delivers a great read!!
JulieB More than 1 year ago
This book grabbed my attention from the beginning and kept it all the way through! There’s a lot going on and it bounces around a lot, but was easy to follow. A big twist comes about halfway through and after that I couldn’t put it down! Great Read. Thank you NetGalley, Polis Books and J.D. Rhoades for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review! #FortunateSon #NetGalley