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

“Any idea who set the bus on fire?” Hayley asked.
Bruce rubbed his eyes. He looked tired and irritated from having to be up so late.
“Nope,” Bruce sighed. “Might’ve been the body they found in the bus.”
“What?” Hayley said, twisting her head away from the smoldering, twisted-metal bus to Bruce.
“You didn’t hear? Cops don’t know yet if this was an accident, a suicide or a murder. What they do know is somebody was inside the bus and he or she is now a smoking charred corpse.”
“Do they know who it was? Do they know anything?”
“Like I said, Hayley, the body’s burned up pretty good. There’s no way of identifying it yet.”
Hayley’s mind raced.
A dead body inside the bus?
Who could it be?
And how did the bus get here?
“Oh, I have heard one interesting rumor,” Bruce said. “I heard Officer Earl talking on his cell and I could’ve sworn he said they found something in the corpse’s mouth and it looked like a chicken bone . . .”
Books by Lee Hollis
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
A Hayley Powell
Food & Cocktails Mystery
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Chapter 1
Hayley Powell didn’t think she was screaming that loud. But when her boss Sal Moretti came barreling out of his office, strawberry yogurt dripping down the front of his light blue, short-sleeve dress shirt, angrily pointing a pudgy finger at her and blaming her for scaring him so badly he spilled his breakfast all over himself, she finally managed to shut her mouth and contain herself.
It was a natural reaction. This was huge news. Her all-time favorite singer—four-time Grammy winner and last year’s Sexiest Man Alive according to
magazine—country music hottie Wade Springer was coming to town to perform two charity concerts. How could she not be screaming?
However, if she’d had the slightest clue at the time that Wade’s imminent arrival in her little home town of Bar Harbor, Maine, would lead to murder, she definitely would not have been so excited.
But, right now, without the power of hindsight, Hayley was in a joyous and celebratory mood. She jumped up from her desk, which was situated in the front office at the
Island Times
newspaper, scurried into the small bathroom in the back, and quickly returned with a paper towel. She began frantically dabbing at the bits of strawberry that rested in the crease of Sal’s shirt just above his ample belly.
“I’m sorry, Sal. I’ll go to the store and get you another yogurt,” Hayley said apologetically.
“Forget the yogurt. I want another shirt,” Sal bellowed. “My wife spent almost twenty dollars on this at Walmart!”
Hayley suspected Sal would never be caught at New York’s Fashion Week anytime soon.
“I don’t get what’s the big deal about some Nashville crooner coming to Bar Harbor,” Sal grunted. “Big name celebrities come here every summer. We’ve had the president of the United States bring his family here. Martha Stewart owns a home on the other side of the island. I’ve never even heard of this guy!”
“You mean to tell me you’ve never listened to his number one hit, ‘I’m Not a Wife Beater, I Just Wear One’?”
“I don’t listen to music. I’m a newsman. That’s why I prefer NPR,” Sal said, snorting. He grabbed at a tiny piece of strawberry that Hayley missed and popped it in his mouth.
Sal snatched the paper towel out of Hayley’s hand and continued to wipe the yogurt off his shirt himself.
Hayley smiled and dutifully scooted back behind her desk. She scrolled down the e-mail on her computer announcing Wade’s upcoming Bar Harbor appearances.
“Wade has always been committed to the environment. He even wrote the theme song for that Oscar-winning documentary about the ice glaciers. Remember that? I loved that song. He talked about the planet being like a big cocktail left on the bar too long and how the ice cubes have all melted away,” Hayley said to her half-listening boss, who was now pouring himself a cup of coffee. “Anyway, when the College of the Atlantic heard he was going on tour in the northeast, they wrote him a letter requesting he do a benefit concert to help raise funds for their ocean research department. My friend Jamie McGibbon—he’s a professor there—well, he sent me an e-mail with the news that Wade’s people just confirmed the dates. You know Jamie. His wife owns the ice cream shop that has the pumpkin spice flavor you love so much . . .”
“Is there a point to this story?”
“Well, no, Jamie just wanted me to be the first to know about Wade Springer performing at the Criterion Theatre.”
Sal perked up. “Wait, so we have a scoop?”
“I could go get us each one. You know how much I love the salted caramel.”
Sal sighed. “No, Hayley. A news scoop! We’ve got the story that this singer is coming to town—before the

“Yes, Jamie wanted me to be the first to know because I’m such a huge fan.”
“Have one of the reporters write something up so we can post it on our website before word gets out and the
beats us to the punch.”
“All our reporters are out covering the city council meeting.”
“Then you do it.”
Hayley wasn’t a reporter. She was just the office manager who wrote a regular cooking column called “Island Food & Spirits” where she shared anything on her mind along with a few tasty food and cocktail recipes.
Sal could read the doubt in her face.
“Just because you write about seafood casseroles and rhubarb pies doesn’t make you any less of a journalist. And a journalist drops everything he or she is doing to alert the public to any breaking news.”
“Got it!” Hayley said, as she began typing furiously. She noticed Sal heading for the door. “Where are you going?”
“I’m starving. I’m going to get some blueberry pancakes at Jordan’s.”
Hayley raised an eyebrow, amused.
“Don’t give me that look. I didn’t say I was the one who has to drop everything. I’m the editor. I delegate. I pay
to drop everything!”
Sal marched out of the office.
Hayley quickly typed a few sentences quoting an unnamed source at the college—since she didn’t want Jamie to get into trouble for talking out of school, literally—and then posted the item on the paper’s website.
Within seconds, the office phone rang and Hayley picked it up. “Island Times, this is Hayley.”
There was loud screaming on the other end of the receiver.
Even louder than her own high-pitched shrieking earlier.
Hayley knew exactly who it was.
“Hi, Liddy,” she said, smiling.
“Is it true? Is he really coming?”
“Yes! Can you believe it?”
More screaming. From both of them. It was like when they were teenage girls and ran away from home together, taking a Greyhound bus to Boston to sneak into a Backstreet Boys concert. They had made it as far as Bangor just an hour outside of town before their parents had the bus pulled over and the cops dragged them home.
Liddy was one of Hayley’s closest friends. They had grown up together. Their lives diverged a bit when Hayley found herself divorced and struggling to raise two kids while Liddy made a big splash in the local real estate market during the boom and was now tooling around town in a Mercedes and flying off to Manhattan every month for retail therapy.
“We have to meet him!” Liddy squealed. “I’m on the board of directors of the Criterion Theatre so I’m sure I can arrange it.”
“Liddy, are you serious? That would be like . . . a dream come true,” Hayley said. She couldn’t allow herself to believe that it was even possible.
“Of course. And now that he’s divorced from that hillbilly, the one who can barely carry a tune, what’s her name?”
“Stacy Jo Stanton,” Hayley offered.
Actually, Stacy Jo was a successful country singer in her own right, but Liddy just couldn’t bring herself to admit it.
“Right. Her. Well, now Wade’s available again so he might be in the market for some female companionship while he’s in town, and since you’re dating Lex Bansfield and I’m one hundred percent single, that someone could be me!”
Liddy was right. Hayley was dating Lex Bansfield, the handsome caretaker of one of the multimillion dollar oceanfront estates, but she wasn’t sure where that was going, or how serious it was, and she certainly didn’t consider herself partnered at this point. But realistically, Hayley knew that neither she nor Liddy stood a chance of ever dating someone like Wade Springer. Liddy loved to get carried away sometimes.
“I had a dream the other night when I fell asleep listening to one of Wade’s albums on my iPod,” Liddy said, taking a long pause for dramatic effect. “I dreamed that someone was spooning me from behind and when I opened my eyes I was wearing one of Wade’s signature ten-gallon white cowboy hats and he was snuggling against me, one strong arm pulling me into his buffed furry chest, and in this deep voice he said, ‘Mornin’ sunshine,’ and I just . . . Oh God, it’s so hot in my office! What’s the weather like outside?”
“Forty-two degrees. It’s not your office. It’s you,” Hayley said, laughing.
“Oh, before I forget, I read online that Wade just fired his personal chef who was cooking for him while he’s on tour.”
“What? Why?”
“The guy bought some bad shrimp and gave everybody food poisoning. Luckily Wade was doing a sound check and didn’t eat any, but four crew members were hospitalized. Isn’t that good news?”
“I don’t see how that’s good news,” Hayley said.
“He fired his chef! Maybe the tour organizers are planning to hire someone local to fill in while they’re here on the island.”
“I know where this is going. Even if that’s true, there’s no way I’d ever get the job.”
“Why not? You’re an award-winning cooking columnist!”
“I got third place. And there were only five columns nominated.”
“It’s all about perception. You’re still award winning! Now don’t dismiss this opportunity like so many others.”
Hayley chose not to press Liddy on what other opportunities Liddy believed she’d dismissed. That was another discussion. Right now was all about bringing Liddy back down to earth.
“Okay, let me think about it.”
“There’s no time to think. We both know Wade’s favorite dish is country fried chicken. He’s a Southerner, after all. You need to write about that in your next column. Show these guys you’ve got what it takes to satisfy Wade’s palette.”
Hayley thought about it for a second and realized Liddy had a good point. Why not write about Wade’s local concert and include a recipe for his favorite dish? Chances are he would probably never see it, but what would be the harm? And if someone close to him did happen to read it, then maybe there was a slight possibility that she would be considered. It certainly was worth a shot.
“I’m hanging up now, go write,” Liddy said, and then there was a click.
Hayley was jammed with phone calls and managerial duties at the office until quitting time, so she didn’t have time to write her column. It would just have to wait until after she fed her kids dinner and took her dog, Leroy, for a walk.
When she arrived home, Leroy, her dirty white shih tzu with a pronounced underbite, was running around in circles, bursting with excitement over her arrival. Much like Hayley’s own reaction to the news Wade Springer was coming to town.
Hayley’s two kids, however—sixteen-year-old Gemma and fourteen-year-old Dustin—were nowhere to be seen. Neither had
displayed even a fraction of the excitement over their mother coming home from work that Leroy could be counted on to do.
She assumed they were both out with friends.
Suddenly, a screech came from upstairs.
Scratch that. Gemma was home.
Hayley grabbed her ears to cover them. Lord. Where did she get that loud earsplitting screaming from?
Gemma came pounding down the stairs, the phone pressed to her ear. Her face was beet red and Hayley noticed the hand holding the receiver was shaking.
“Honey, are you all right?” Hayley asked.
“Shhhh, Mom, please! This is important!”
She was all right.
Gemma turned her back to Hayley and whispered frantically into the phone, a few excited giggles escaping every few sentences.
After giving Leroy a doggie treat, Hayley filled a pot with water and placed it on the stove and turned the heat on the burner up to high. She had made some of her homemade spaghetti sauce, left over from the night before, so a quick pasta dinner would be easy to prepare and give her more time to get to work on her Wade Springer tribute column.
Gemma finally finished her call.
She screamed again.
Leroy, startled, dashed out of the room and hid behind the couch.
“Mom, Reid Jennings asked me out on a date! I can’t believe it! Reid Jennings!”
“I’m so happy for you! Who’s Reid Jennings?”
“He’s a new kid. His parents just moved here this year. They bought that seafood restaurant on the pier after the last owner skipped town.”
Hayley had heard of the family, but didn’t know much about them.
“Anyway, Reid’s an artist and a really, really talented one,” Gemma gushed.
“He paints?”
“No. He’s a singer-songwriter and he’s playing at that new agey coffeehouse next to the organic food market on Cottage Street, and he asked me to come tonight and hear him perform one of his original songs!”
“So it’s not really a date. He just wants to fill the seats.”
Gemma gave her mother a withering look.
“Way to pop my balloon, Mom,” Gemma said, sighing. “Is it so hard for you to allow me this one ounce of happiness?”
“I’m sorry,” Hayley said. “I didn’t realize your life was so full of disappointments and despair.”

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