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J.D. Rhoades was born and raised in North Carolina.
He has worked as a radio news reporter, club DJ, television cameraman, ad salesman, waiter, practicing attorney, and newspaper columnist. His weekly column in the Southern Pines, North Carolina Pilot was named best column of the year in its division for 2005.
His first novel, The Devil’s Right Hand, was released in 2005; Good Day in Hell, his second novel featuring North Carolina bail bondsman Jack Keller, was released in March 2006. Safe and Sound, July 2007, also features Jack Keller. Breaking Cover, July 2008, is a standalone thriller.
He lives, writes, and practices law in Carthage, North Carolina.
Breaking Cover (2008)
Safe and Sound (2007)
Good Day in Hell (2006)
The Devil's Right Hand (2005)
The first blow split Stan’s lip and knocked him into a stack of recapped tires at the back of the repair bay. He caught a glimpse of the bright sunlight and the road outside before his stepfather’s bulk eclipsed the light like an evil moon. The second, third, and fourth blows were softer but more humiliating, delivered as they were by the hand holding the rolled-up magazine.
“This how you pay me back?” his stepfather bellowed, shaking the magazine in Stan’s face. Curled up, all Stan could see was part of a bare breast and nipple and a flash of thigh. “All I done for you?” He began punctuating his diatribe with blows across Stan’s face from the rolled-up magazine, as if Stan were a puppy who had piddled on the rug. “I (WHACK) put a ROOF (WHACK) over your HEAD (WHACK), put FOOD (WHACK) on your PLATE (WHACK), and all . . .” He shook the magazine in Stan’s face. “So you can sit around my business reading PORN?” He threw the magazine aside and grabbed Stan by the collar of his T-shirt.
“I didn’t—,” Stan blubbered. “It’s not—” He hated himself for the tears that sprang to his eyes. Stan was sixteen, almost seventeen, and he was almost as tall as his stepfather. But when the blows came, forehand, backhand, he was as helpless as a five-year-old before the older man’s fury. He didn’t even dare put his hands up to shield his face. Every time he had tried that, he had been beaten worse, once so badly he had lost a tooth. So he took the punishment, his guts twisting with fear and hate. He tried to make himself go far away, so it would all seem like it was happening to someone else. Sometimes he could make that happen. Those times were easier. It was easier if the loathing he felt was for some other weak, helpless pussy. This time, though, he couldn’t do it. It stayed real. It was Stan who felt the collar of the T-shirt rip in his stepfather’s hand, Stan who saw the rage double in the man’s eyes, Stan who saw the open hand pulled back, closed into a fist, and ready to put the lights out . . .
There was a tinny double ping from out front that signaled a vehicle pulling up. Saved by the bell, Stan thought giddily as his stepfather released him and straightened up. “I’ll finish with you later,” the older man snarled. He turned on his heel and walked out of the repair bay. Stan slid down to the floor and hugged his knees, willing himself not to cry. He leaned over to pick the wadded magazine off the floor. On the cover, a slim blonde girl who looked hardly out of puberty was looking back over her naked shoulder with what was intended to be a sultry look. She really just looked pissed. Barely Legal, the magazine title promised. He laid the magazine on the workbench and tried to smooth out the wrinkles where his stepfather had wadded it up. Suddenly, a crimson speck appeared on the girl’s pouty face. He stared at it uncomprehending for a moment until the speck deformed and began to run down the arch of the girls’ back, across the glossy paper, leaving a watery red trail. Stan put a hand to his nose, felt the wetness there. His hand came away red. “Shit,” he said out loud. He looked around for something to stop the bleeding. All he saw was a pair of grease-stained rags draped over the back of the workbench. He stumbled to the front of the repair bay, through the doors to the front office. He glanced at the gas pumps. There was a black Mustang convertible pulled up at the full-service pump. Stan’s stepfather was pumping, wearing the obsequious grin he always used with customers. A man stood by the Mustang’s front fender, his arms folded across his chest, nodding and grinning back at whatever was being said. The man was tall, over six feet, and dressed entirely in black: jeans, shirt, even his boots. He wore dark glasses. His black hair was shot with streaks of gray and combed back from his forehead. At one time, he might have been regarded as a handsome man, but the outline of what once had probably been memorably rugged good looks had sagged under the weight of years and hard living.
There was another person in the car on the passenger side, but Stan couldn’t see him clearly. He snagged the restroom key off the hook behind the cash register and exited through the side door. The station’s single working restroom was halfway down one side, past the door to the other restroom with the out of order sign that had been there for as long as Stan could remember. He fumbled the key into the lock and slipped inside. He glanced into the mirror over the cracked and rust-stained sink. “Oh, fuck,” he blurted out. The area below his nose was a trail of crimson that led over his puffy and bleeding lip. There were spatters of blood on his light blue uniform shirt as well, the same color as the embroidered “Stan” over the pocket. Stan moaned in fear. The only thing worse than the beatings was the possibility that someone would find out, that the Social Services people would come back, that the whole round of questions and courts and lawyers would start over.
The first time it had happened, Stan had been twelve. He had thought then that they would take him away, put him someplace where he and his mom could be safe. And they had, for a while. But within six months, his mom went back and, eventually, so did Stan. His stepfather had made all the right noises, taken all the right steps. But all that had really happened was that he was more careful to hit Stan where it wouldn’t leave marks. For a while. But after a while, caution receded. His stepfather had knocked one of his teeth out for spilling motor oil on the floorboard of the pickup. And the cycle had begun again. Questions, hearings, orders for anger management and parenting classes, and, in the end, Stan was back where he started. Only now that he was older, he realized that everyone knew. Everyone knew how weak he was. He hated that worst of all.
Stan rolled a handful of paper towels off the holder and blotted at his face. He managed to mop most of the blood off, but a steady flow still came from his nose. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Stan muttered. He looked up at the ceiling and pressed the paper towels against his nose. There was a knock on the door.
“Just a minute,” Stan gasped, his voice breaking on the last word.
“Come on, hon,” a female voice said on the other side of the door. “My back teeth’re floatin’.”
Stan closed his eyes. “Fuck,” he whispered one last time, with feeling. He tipped his head back upright. The bleeding seemed to have stopped but his nose and lip were still visibly swollen. He hurriedly stuffed the paper towels in the wastebasket. He turned to the door, took a deep breath, and opened it.
The girl waiting on the other side looked to be not much older than Stan. She was dressed in a pair of low-rise jeans that looked about ready to slide off of her bony hips and a thin tank top that hugged her upper body. There was an appliqué design of a daisy on the shirt between the slight bulges of her small breasts. She had a large shapeless bag slung over one shoulder. Her face might have been pretty except for her jaw, which looked too big for the rest of her features. It gave her a belligerent look, as if she was daring anyone to disagree with something she had yet to say. Her blonde hair was cut short and moussed into carefully plotted disarray, with a swoop of hair down over her left eye.
“Whoa,” she said. “What happened to you?”
“Nothing,” Stan said. “I, um, I fell down.”
The girl swept the hair away from her face. Her blue eyes narrowed. “Huh,” she said. “You fell.” She looked back to the front of the station, where Stan could hear his stepfather guffawing over his own joke. Her jaw tightened and she looked back. “I gotta pee,” she said.
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry,” Stan said. He stepped past her as she stepped into the restroom. As he started to walk away, she said “Hey.” Stan looked back at her. She was leaning on the door, looking out.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Stan,” he said.
“That guy out there,” she said, jerking her head toward the front. “He your daddy?”
“Stepdad,” Stan said. She got a look in her eye that Stan hadn’t expected. He had been dreading pity. What he saw looked like . . . determination. She closed the door.
Stan walked around to the front of the station. He reached the front door to the office just as his stepfather came out. “Make yourself useful,” he said, handing Stan a plastic card. “Run this guy’s credit card.” He stood outside the office door, joking with the older man.
Stan went to the old credit-card machine and got out one of the carbon forms. The credit-card rep had been trying to get Stan’s stepfather to lease one of the newer electronic credit-card machines, but so far he hadn’t wanted to spend the money. He looked up to see the blonde girl coming around to the front. She was walking quickly, her hand stuffed into the bag over her shoulder. When she reached the spot where the two men were talking, she pulled a large handgun out of the bag and shot Stan’s stepfather in the face.
He fell backward, blood gushing between his hands. A horrible bubbling sound came from between the fingers, as if he had tried to scream. Stan stood behind the counter, frozen by shock. He knew his mouth was open, but he couldn’t make any sound come out.
The girl looked up at the man in black. “Like we agreed?” she asked.
The man nodded. “Yeah.”
The girl handed the gun to the man in black, who stepped over until he was standing with one foot on each side of the body still writhing and flopping on the ground. He looked at the girl, a slight frown on his face. “You’re startin’ early,” he said. He aimed and fired downward. The body beneath him gave one last convulsion and lay still. The man in black stepped over to the counter, where Stan was still rooted to the spot. He pointed the gun at Stan. “Open the register, kid,” he said. Stan tried again to speak, but all that came out was a low moan. His hands were apparently smarter than his tongue; they seemed to move of their own accord as he hit the button to open the register. The girl stepped forward and pulled out the cash drawer. She was smiling at Stan. She looked back at the body on the ground. “I used to fall down a lot myself,” she said. She poured the contents of the cash drawer into her shoulder bag, her eyes still on Stan, that scary smile still on her face. He felt as if his legs would give way any second. “Roy,” the girl said over her shoulder. “Hand me the gun.”
He handed the gun over. She placed the barrel almost gently under Stan’s chin. The barrel was hot, a circle of pain against his flesh. “Hey, Stan,” she whispered. “You want to be famous?”
Stan finally rediscovered words. “Wh . . . wh . . . what?”
“We’re gonna be famous,” Roy said. He was grinning.
“Yeah,” Laurel said. “And you can come along. If you want.”
“Hey,” Roy said. “That’s not—”
“What about it, Stan?” Laurel interrupted him. “You wanna be famous? We can make it happen.”
“Laurel,” Roy said, “we’ve gotta get moving.”
“Come with us, Stan,” the girl said. “What have you got here? Some dipshit gas station out in the country? We’re gonna be on TV. In the papers. Books, movies . . . you name it. Or.” She looked a little sad. “I can put a bullet in you. Then Roy’ll put a bullet in you, ’cause we agreed. Your choice. But you need to tell me now.”
Stan swallowed hard. He cut his eyes toward the figure of his stepfather on the ground. It began to dawn on him that he wasn’t going to have to get slapped around anymore. He looked back. The girl saw his eyes and her smile got wider. She lowered the gun.
“Okay,” he said.
Copyright © 2006 by J. D. Rhoades. All rights reserved.