Death of a Country Fried Redneck (Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mysteries) (3 page)

“Hi, Kelton,” Hayley said with a little trepidation.
Kelton turned around, surprised. “Hayley, what are you doing here?”
Kelton was what you would call a gentle giant: close to three hundred pounds that pushed against his hopelessly stained white t-shirt, with a scruffy beard, but the kindest eyes and the sweetest smile. Kelton had been friends with Hayley since kindergarten.
“Wait. Let me guess. Wade Springer.”
Busted.
“I can’t get you a table, Hayley. I’m sorry. I turned down my own mother.”
“I understand, Kelton. I’m not here to eat. I’m here to cook.”
Kelton raised an eyebrow. “You after my job?” “Yes. But just for one order.”
Kelton smiled. “I get it. You want to prepare his breakfast order. I read your column. Pretty shameless ploy, Hayley.”
“I’ll owe you big-time,” Hayley said.
Kelton looked at her for a moment. Hayley wasn’t sure he was going to go for it. He might get in trouble with Dave, the owner. But, then again, Kelton and Dave were best friends, so how much trouble would he really get in?
Kelton reached up and grabbed a piece of green paper that was clipped to a clothespin above the pickup station and handed it to Hayley.
“Southwest omelette, side of sausage, hash browns. Don’t screw it up.”
Hayley gave Kelton a hug. “Thank you, Kelton!”
“Consider us even for that physics quiz in high school.”
She couldn’t believe he still remembered.
Hayley grabbed an apron with a giant red lobster on the front and tied it around her waist and quickly got to work. An omelette was pretty standard stuff and there was not going to be much opportunity to make one that really stood out, but a few spices sprinkled here and there and a couple of added ingredients to give it a little kick just might do the trick. She also added some cheese to the hash browns and cooked the sausages to perfection, working so hard at her presentation, it was as if she were competing on
Top Chef
.
Hayley took a deep breath as she set the plate out on the pickup station and rang the bell.
Kelton came up behind her and put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Hayley said, patting his hand.
The waitress buzzed past, picking up the plate and taking it over to the corner booth where Wade sat with his manager. Wade’s back was to Hayley so she never got a good look at his face. But she saw him cut off a piece of the omelette with his fork and raise it to his mouth to take a bite.
She noticed him talking to his manager. Was he talking about the omelette or were they just going over the song list for the upcoming performances?
She stood there in the kitchen, peeking out through the pickup station, watching Wade eat the entire breakfast. When he was finished, he reached out and touched the waitress on the arm and said something. The waitress, a world-weary hardened local who was not easily impressed by anyone, broke into a wide smile and nodded and then made a beeline for the kitchen.
She entered through the swinging door and said with a thick Maine accent, “Wade Springer wants to personally give his compliments to the chef.”
Hayley froze.
This was it.
She couldn’t believe this hare-brained scheme of Liddy’s actually worked.
Kelton was beaming. “Well, don’t just stand there, Hayley, go take a bow.”
Hayley took a step forward as if she were in a dream.
That’s when someone grabbed her by the arm.
“What are you doing back here, Hayley?”
It was Dave, the owner of Jordan’s. Dave Jordan.
Damn.
“Kelton, I told you not to let anyone back here.”
“Oh, come on, Dave, it’s Hayley.”
“I’m sorry. Springer’s security people will be all over me if they find out I’m letting locals overrun the place. I’m going to have to ask you to leave now, Hayley.”
“But she cooked his breakfast and now he wants to say thanks,” Kelton protested.
“You let her do your job?”
Hayley was feeling bad now. This was exactly what she didn’t want, Kelton getting into trouble.
“You know she’s a good cook. Don’t you read her column?”
Hayley could tell Dave was sympathetic. But she also knew he had a business to run, and what would it look like if Wade’s people found out he let just anyone off the street prepare a meal in his kitchen for a famous customer? And she also knew that the tour being in town meant a boom in business for Dave and he couldn’t risk upsetting anyone enough to boycott his restaurant.
“Kelton, thank you. But Dave’s right. I’m going to go now.”
Hayley was red faced and felt foolish as she retreated out the back door, knowing her best chance to meet Wade Springer had just slipped through her fingers.
Chapter 3
 
When Hayley arrived home from work, her loyal dog, Leroy, was at the back door to the kitchen to greet her as always. She heard a pair of high-pitched voices chattering away in the living room. Probably Gemma and a friend. No effort was made by the girls to even acknowledge her arrival after a hard day at the office.
Thank God for the unconditional love of a dog. Leroy was running around in circles and looked like he was about to pass out from the excitement. Gemma and her friend were too engaged dissecting the details of Gemma’s “date” at the coffeehouse with high school heartthrob Reid Jennings.
“Omigod, you should have heard his voice. So deep and smooth, and, Carrie, he was singing right to me. We locked eyes. It was so romantic. It would have been perfect if my mother hadn’t been there!”
“I’m home, so I can hear you!” Hayley said as she shed her jacket and checked the cupboards to inspect what food was in the house for dinner. It was slim pickings and Hayley dreaded having to go to the grocery store, which would be packed with nine to fivers just off work.
“Hi, Mrs. Powell!” Gemma’s friend said.
“Hi, Carrie,” Hayley answered.
Carrie Weston. A friend of Gemma’s since first grade. Carrie was a sweet girl, rather shy, and not as popular as Gemma. She didn’t like sports and was too insecure to try out for cheerleading or for any plays or for the student council. She was a bit of a wallflower with flat brown hair and a little thick around the middle. She had a pretty face, with a large mole which she hated, and she rarely smiled except when she was with Gemma. Hayley always feared that when Gemma rose in popularity once she hit high school, she would drop Carrie as a friend to hang with more of an “in” crowd, but to Gemma’s credit, she stayed loyal. Especially since Carrie was always available to listen to all of Gemma’s breathless stories of her love life.
Hayley knew one reason Carrie was so quiet and introspective.
She had a lousy home life.
Her mother died of cancer when she was three, and her father was left to raise her. Ned Weston, Carrie’s father, was a big drinker with a foul temper, and he was very strict with Carrie, never trusting her and always suspecting she was up to no good. Hayley disliked Ned but tried to be civil, given the fact that their daughters were besties.
Hayley walked into the living room and gave Carrie a smile. “Don’t let her talk your ear off, Carrie. I’m sure you’d like to discuss other topics besides the incomparable Reid Jennings.”
“Oh, I don’t mind, Mrs. Powell,” Carrie said. “I’m just glad Gemma’s found someone she likes.”
“I’m very picky,” Gemma added.
“Yes, we know. And not just about boys,” Hayley said. “Are you dating anyone, Carrie?”
Carrie looked surprised by the question. “Um, no. Not at the moment.”
“I’m making it my personal mission to find her a boyfriend before school’s out next summer so we can double date at the beach,” Gemma said.
“Anyone you have an eye on?” Hayley asked.
“Well, there’s one person that drives me crazy every time I see him, but the only problem is he doesn’t know I’m alive,” Carrie said.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone through the same thing,” Hayley said.
“Plus, after reading your column in yesterday’s paper, I’d have to fight you for him,” Carrie said, laughing.
“Oh, I see,” Hayley said. “You’re a Wade Springer fan, too?”
“Oh . . . My . . . God! So hot!” Carrie said, swooning.
Funny how the mere mention of his name made girls of all ages melt.
“I know, right? Whenever I’m feeling depressed, I play one of his songs in my car and it never fails to brighten my spirits,” Hayley said, immediately realizing she was regressing in age with every word she spoke.
“What’s for dinner?” Gemma said, already bored by the subject of Wade Springer, who she clearly did not find remotely as interesting as Reid Jennings.
“I just went shopping two days ago and the cupboards are already bare,” Hayley said.
“What can I say? Growing kids, healthy appetites, you know the drill,” Gemma said.
“How about we go out for pizza? My treat. Carrie, would you like to join us?”
Hayley could see that Carrie wanted to come along, but she hesitated. “Well, my dad’s working late tonight, and I’m not supposed to call him unless it’s an emergency, but as long as I’m home by nine I should be fine.”
“Great. We can drop you off after we eat. What about Dustin?”
“Already ate,” Gemma said. “He’s out with some friends making a horror movie with his iPhone. They took all the ketchup we had in the house to use as blood.”
“Who knew I gave birth to the next J.J. Abrams,” Hayley said as she scooped some dog food into a bowl for Leroy, refilled his water bowl and followed the girls outside where they piled into the car and headed toward Geddy’s restaurant on Main Street just up from the town pier.
As Hayley looped around town and took a right on West Street past the old mansions that lined the coastal side of the street toward the pier, she drove past the Harborside Hotel, a very well-appointed four-star hotel, one of the best in town. Suddenly a scream from the back seat startled her.
“Omigod! There he is!” Carrie was out of control, yanking the door open, about to jump out of the car.
“Carrie, wait!” Hayley yelled as she jerked the car to the side of the road and hit the brake. “Who are you talking about?”
“Wade Springer!” Carrie was already out of the car and running across the street to the hotel parking lot where two tour buses were parked.
Hayley looked at Gemma, who rolled her eyes and folded her arms and let out a deep sigh. “Go on. Make it quick. I’m starving.”
“We’ll only be a minute,” Hayley said, making sure no cars were coming before swinging open the driver’s side door and racing across the street to catch up with Carrie.
Hayley found Carrie in the stately lobby of the hotel. Her whole body appeared to be shaking and she was on the verge of tears.
Hayley put an arm around her. “Honey, are you all right?”
“I saw him. He was right there. I got so close I could almost touch him.”
“Did you say anything to him?”
“I tried. But I just froze up. And then he went into the bar with some people and I haven’t been able to move since.”
The bar was part of the hotel’s Italian restaurant, La Bella Vita. Hayley loved their meatballs and was forever trying to duplicate their secret recipe.
“So he’s in the bar right now?”
Carrie nodded.
Hayley took Carrie’s hand. “Come on. Let’s go meet him.”
She pulled Carrie by the hand, but Carrie still didn’t move.
The shock of seeing her idol in the flesh.
Hayley completely understood.
“Come on, honey. One step at a time.”
Carrie put one foot forward, then another, and finally started walking. Hayley decided it was up to her to make Carrie’s night.
Hell, meeting Wade Springer would make Carrie’s year.
And Hayley’s, too.
Also, if she just happened to mention that she was the one who prepared that mouth-watering breakfast he enjoyed at Jordan’s earlier in the day, then so be it.
As they rounded the corner, Hayley in the lead, she slammed into something. The impact nearly knocked Hayley off her feet.
Carrie gasped.
It wasn’t a wall Hayley hit.
It was a man.
Over six feet tall and probably close to three hundred pounds. An African-American guy with huge biceps and a stern face.
“Excuse me,” Hayley said apologetically before trying to walk around him. “We’re trying to get to the bar.”
The towering side of beef didn’t move.
“I know she’s underage but we’re not ordering anything,” Hayley said. “We’ll just be a minute. There’s someone we want to meet.”
Still no budging.
Finally the giant spoke. “Sorry. Private party.”
“Can’t we just pop in for a second? We want to meet Wade.”
“You and everybody else. No one gets in there. I have my orders.”
“I see,” Hayley said. “But this girl . . .”
Hayley grabbed Carrie and pulled her out from behind her and shoved her in front of Wade’s bodyguard. “This girl’s lifelong dream has been to meet Wade Springer and I promised her I would do everything I could to make that happen. And you’re the only one standing in the way of her dream finally becoming a reality.”
“Sounds to me like you shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep.”
Carrie finally found her voice. “What if we told you I was dying and we’re here as part of Make-A-Wish.”
“I’d say I don’t believe you for a second,” the guard growled.
Hayley tried one more time. “Could you at least . . . what’s your name?”
“Curtis,” the guard said, not cracking a smile.
Hayley put out her hand to shake. Curtis kept his massive arms folded.
“Curtis, could you at least go in there and tell Wade two of his biggest fans are out here and would love the opportunity to just say hello?”
“Never going to happen,” Curtis said.
Carrie stepped back, defeated. “Come on, Mrs. Powell, let’s go.”
Hayley gave Curtis a scowl to match his own. “You are not a very happy person, Curtis. Haven’t you heard an occasional smile and a positive attitude help you live longer? Think about it.”
And with that, Hayley spun around and followed Carrie out of the hotel, trying to hold on to her last shred of dignity after behaving like a star-struck groupie.
 
 
After taking the girls out for pizza at Geddy’s, Hayley drove Carrie to her house on Ledgelawn Avenue. When she pulled up, Hayley felt a knot in her stomach. Ned Weston’s car was in the driveway and all the lights were on in the house. He had beaten them home. Through the rearview mirror, even though it was already dark outside, Hayley could make out the look of fear on Carrie’s face in the back seat.
“Thanks for dinner, Mrs. Powell. See you at school tomorrow, Gemma,” Carrie said quickly as she bolted out of the car and scurried across the lawn toward the front door of the house.
Before she had a chance to reach it, the door swung open and the angry face of Ned Weston peered out. He was a bear of a man, though no match for Curtis, Wade Springer’s unhappy watchdog.
Ned could have been considered a handsome man, with a sexy shaved head that reminded Hayley of that hot British Starfleet commander from Star Trek, Patrick Stewart. But Ned’s dark and unfriendly personality ruined any chance that a woman might be attracted to him.
In fact, he struck Hayley as downright menacing.
Hayley watched Ned’s face turn beet red as Carrie tried to explain why she hadn’t been there when he got home from work. Carrie pointed toward the car and Ned whipped his head around, glaring at Hayley.
Hayley offered a weak smile and a quick wave, but Ned didn’t acknowledge her. He just grabbed Carrie by the arm and dragged her into the house, slamming the door shut behind him.
“What a jerk,” Gemma spit out from the back seat.
“You think she’s going to be all right?” Hayley asked.
“Oh, yeah. He’ll yell at her for a while until he gets tired and then he’ll just go watch ESPN or Fox News. It’s not like he ever hits her or anything. She’d tell me if he did.”
“Well, that’s good to know.”
Hayley slowly pulled the car away from the curb, keeping one eye on the house, wishing there was something she could do to help poor Carrie, but knowing she was powerless to do anything, and it was an awful feeling.

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