Last week we announced that Nancy Swarts & Jesse Swarts’ Drive Down Ruby Road is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category:
Here’s the set-up:
Life gives Dallas O’Donnell a swift kick in the rear when he participates in a dark rite of passage for the boys in the small town of Ruby. “Bloody Bill” Hawkins has been plagued by these teenage boys for years, suffering their torment each time they throw red paint on his porch. It’s meant to look like blood—the blood of Bloody Bill’s younger brother, who was shot twenty years ago on Ruby Road, just as he began his senior year in high school. Great student, great kid, the school’s local football hero.
When Dallas is caught “red”-handed dumping paint on Bill’s front porch, his county sheriff father sentences him to hard labor. Painting Bill Hawkins’ house. All of it.
Every day Dallas walks down Ruby Road to work on the house, bringing along home-cooked meals his mother makes for Bill. Bit by bit Dallas forms a friendship with the old man and learns about his younger brother, Charlie, who shared Dallas’s first love—tinkering with cars.
Bill takes Dallas out to show him Charlie’s classic GTO that has been stored for twenty years in the shed, and it’s love at first sight. The car is perfect, except for one minor flaw—a bullet hole in the driver’s side door.
Now that Dallas has befriended Bill, he knows the kids were wrong. Bill could never have shot the younger brother he loved so much. So now it’s up to Dallas to find out who really fired that shot, the night Charlie took a joy ride down Ruby Road.
* * *
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
The blast of a shotgun blew a hole the size of his fist in the screen door. Not that Dallas O’Donnell stood there and measured it or anything. He dove off the porch and plastered himself to the side of the house while Bloody Bill Hawkins ranted and raved just out of eyesight.
Dallas had almost mustered up the nerve to tear down the drive to C.W.’s car when another gunshot sent his so-called friend peeling down the road.
“Don’t you never come back!” old man Hawkins yelled.
Heavy footsteps thudded across the porch, and Dallas squatted behind a bush and cringed, his heart beating so wildly against his ribs he was sure the sound would give him away. Surely, all the old man had to do was take a few more steps and look down and he’d see him. Dallas’s only hope was to try to sneak around the back of the house. Slowly he inched backward.
At that moment he heard a chain chink. He looked behind him, and there, between him and a safe escape, was a nasty, matted billy goat tethered to a dead tree. It shook its head, rattling the chain around his neck again, then lowered his horns and charged.
Dallas took a hit in the butt that sent him sprawling face down in the dust. When he looked up, the goat stood guard on one side, and crazy old Hawkins stood on the other, gun in hand, rocking from foot to foot, laughing with glee.
. . .
Through a dirty kitchen windowpane, Dallas caught a glimpse of the sheriff department’s cruiser as it pulled into the farmyard. He was relieved it wasn’t his dad’s Camaro but one of the new Dodge Chargers the county recently bought for the deputies.
He glared at Bloody Bill, thinking, You’re gonna be sorry now, you stinky old fart. Cautiously, he expelled the lung-full of stench he’d been holding ever since Bill made him sit at the kitchen table. His lungs hurt from not breathing, certain the old coot could blow him away any minute, and his eyes hurt from staring, afraid to even blink. Bill hadn’t set the gun down once and hadn’t quit yapping for a second, either.
“Never shoulda done it. Never shoulda done it. Yer in trouble. Yer in trouble now,” he said, circling around him.
Outside a car door opened and shut and Dallas watched through the hole in the screen door, hoping whoever came out on the call could handle crazy people. At first all Dallas could see was a booted foot as it came into view. Gingerly it shoved the spilled paint can on the porch, then Hector Sanchez stepped into view, easing around the bright red paint that had pooled by the door.
Immediately Dallas’s shoulders relaxed. Hector was cool. He was the rookie deputy, fresh out of school, and not above talking a little trash with Dallas once in awhile. Exactly the kind of guy that gave Dallas fleeting thoughts that maybe he could follow in his father’s footsteps one day and get into law enforcement.
Hector was still studying the puddle of paint when he raised his fist to knock.
“Come on in here, young fella,” Bill said to him. “Come on in here. I got him right here. I got him right here.”
“Bill?” Hector said, stepping inside, then stopped short when he saw Dallas. Something in his brown eyes made Dallas want to look away. Something like disappointment. Hector nodded toward Dallas, staring at his hands. “You hurt?”
“Nah, it’s…” Dallas couldn’t say it.
“Paint.” Hector shook his head slowly, then set his jaw.
Bill stepped between them, turning his back on Dallas for the first time since that stupid goat knocked him down. “I got him this time. I got him this time.”
“For gosh sakes, Bill,” Hector said, pulling the shotgun out of the old man’s hands. “What are you doin’ with a gun?”
“Just scarin’ ‘em. Just scarin’ ‘em, like they do me. It ain’t loaded. Not anymore anyway.”
Hector cracked open the gun, checked the chambers, then gave it a sniff. “You been shooting this thing, Bill?”
Bloody Bill clasped his hands high over his belly and rocked back on his heels. “Maybe. Just maybe I have.”
“You could hurt someone like that. Shootin’ at people comes to no good. You oughta know that, Bill.”
“Weren’t nothin’ but a little rock salt. Rock salt is all. Just meant to sting ‘em a bit.”
Hector kept a wary eye on him and walked over to Dallas, pulling him up by the sleeve of his shirt. “I’m takin’ this kid and your gun out to the car, Bill. Why don’t you just sit tight here a minute and then I’ll come in and get a statement from you.” He shoved Dallas toward the door.
“I need my gun. I gotta have my gun.”
“It’s just routine, Bill. You won’t need it for awhile.” He turned around again at the door. “Just have yourself a cup of coffee or something.”
Dallas jumped over the wet paint, strode over to the passenger’s side of the cruiser and slid in. He loved those cars — the sleek design, all the toys, the power.
Hector sat down heavily and slammed his door a little too hard. He stared straight ahead, looped his arm over the steering wheel and leaned his forehead up against it.
He looked like he needed to lighten up. “Hey, thanks for saving me,” Dallas said, and reached over to flip on the switch for the cruiser lights.
Hector batted his hand away. “‘Saving’ you? I’m here to arrest you.”
Dallas laughed. “Right.”
Hector’s face was stone. “Yeah, this is every deputy’s dream, to arrest the sheriff’s son first month on the job.”
“Yeah, sure,” Dallas said, squinting at him, waiting for the grin to break out on Hector’s face. But it didn’t come. “What did I do?”
“Criminal trespass, criminal mischief…”
“I didn’t –”
“You have the right to remain silent…”
“…the right to an attorney…”
Dallas tipped his head back and closed his eyes, wishing he could cover his ears too like when he was a little kid. And I thought Hector was my friend.
“You know your father’s on his way,” the deputy said, after reciting the Miranda Rights.
“Why?” Dallas spat. “He doesn’t need to come out here. It’s no big deal.”
Finally Hector looked him in the eye, but what Dallas saw gave him a knot in his gut. “Anytime somebody breaks the law, it’s a big deal.”
“What, some little misdemeanor?”
Hector grimaced and shook his head. “Don’t touch anything.” He got out as the sheriff’s Camaro pulled up. “I’d suggest you start prayin’,” he said and slammed the door.
Sheriff Wade O’Donnell emerged from the driver seat and met the news exactly as Dallas imagined. He paced, shouted, gestured and glared his son’s way from time to time, then disappeared into Bloody Bill’s house for what seemed like an eternity. Hector never came to talk to Dallas again, just crossed his arms and leaned against the front of his car like he was guarding a prisoner. The blue digital numbers on the clock clicked off the time in slow motion and forty minutes passed. Dallas slid down in his seat and closed his eyes, pretending to doze. They’re making such a big deal over this.
Suddenly his door jerked opened. His dad stood above him, looking like a blond-haired, blue eyed giant again, even though Dallas had shot up to nearly six foot two himself in the last few years. People said they looked alike. Dallas didn’t consider that a compliment. “Get in the car,” Wade said, cocking his head toward the Camaro.
“Dad, I –”
Wade swung around and held his hand up in front of him, his face as grim as his voice. “Shut up, Dallas. I’m taking you home. We’ll discuss this with your mother.”
“Hector already read me my rights, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Wade stiffened and stopped walking and Dallas ducked his head and retreated to his dad’s car. When his old man didn’t feel like talking, he’d just as well not try.
The ride home was silent and strained. Dallas slid down in his seat and crossed his arms, but he didn’t feel as cocky as he tried to look. In fact, he felt stupid. All the years guys had thrown red paint all over Bloody Bill’s porch, and he was the only one who ever got caught.
He got out of the car and tried to beat it to his room to get lost in some music, but his dad wouldn’t let him.
“In the kitchen, young man.”
Dallas ignored him.
“Don’t press your luck, Dallas. You’re in enough trouble as it is.”
Wade gave him a level stare and Dallas sighed, retreating to the kitchen to get the third degree from his mother.
Dottie O’Donnell was standing at the counter with her bifocals slid down her nose, studying a cookbook. “Hey, you guys are going to spoil the surprise. I’m trying out a new recipe on you.”
Great. Mom’s seaweed brownies are really gonna top off a perfect day, Dallas thought. She was always trying out disgusting health food. It was mean. The house smelled great, like chocolate or cinnamon, and the food tasted like cardboard. Never failed.
Dallas slid down in a polished oak seat at the table, staring out the kitchen window and wishing he was shooting baskets instead of waiting for an interrogation.
“C.W. called and said to call him back as soon as you get home, Dallas,” his mom said over her shoulder as she dug around in the refrigerator. “I don’t have anything fixed for a main dish yet, but…” She looked up, then paused, eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement at her husband. “Wade? You’re pacing. Sit down and relax.”
“To tell you the truth, I’m on duty right now and I don’t want to sit down.”
“Okay,” she said, sounding confused.
He pulled out a chair across from Dallas and gestured toward it. “You sit down, Dot. We need to talk.”
“About what?” She closed the fridge and sat on the edge of the seat. “What’s going on?” Alarm edged into her voice, then her gaze swept Dallas and her voice became hard. “What did you do this time?”
His father stepped up behind his mother and gripped the back of her chair. “Vandalism is far from nothing.”
Dottie’s mouth dropped open. “Vandalism?”
Dallas closed his eyes and opened them slowly to keep from rolling them. His folks hated it when he rolled his eyes. “I didn’t wreck anything.”
His dad nearly hissed out his words. “Throwing red paint on an elderly man’s porch is vandalism, Dallas.”
“Yeah, well, you probably did it when you were my age too.”
“No, I would never have done that, and I always hoped I’d brought up a son who wouldn’t either.”
“Everybody’s gone out to Bloody Bill’s and –”
“Don’t call him that,” his dad yelled. By this time, a couple of big tears rolled down Dottie’s cheek and she shook her head.
Dallas did his best not to look. “It happens all the time. Bloody—I mean, old man Hawkins probably doesn’t even care, his place is such a dump.”
Dottie jabbed at the table top with an index finger. “You have no right to judge him, young man. You don’t know what his life’s been like.”
“I’ve heard it plenty of times. He killed his own brother. Shot him in cold blood.”
“You don’t know that,” his dad said. “That’s just a rumor people like you believe so they can pick on some defenseless old man.”
Dallas shrugged. “Didn’t seem so defenseless when he was standing over me with a shotgun in his hand.”
“Let me ask you this, Dallas,” his dad said. “If you think he’s so crazy and you torment him to the point he shoots at you, whose fault is it?”
“What?” Dallas asked, screwing up his face in disbelief.
“Just think about it.” He squared his shoulders. “I want to know who was with you.”
Dallas squinted up at him. Oh, like now I’m going to get my best friend in trouble for nothing, too.
“You didn’t drive yourself out there.”
Dallas shrugged. “I don’t remember.”
“Who was it?” Dottie demanded in that stern, no-nonsense tone.
Wade circled around him, to talk down at him from behind his chair. “Somebody drove you out there.”
“Nope, I walked.”
“You didn’t carry a gallon of red paint out there on your own.” Wade paused, waiting for an answer that didn’t come—would never come. “I’m thinking C.W. is the only friend you have with a license to drive. Was C.W. with you? Is that why he wants you to call him?”
He may have deserted me, but I’m not ratting on him.
Dottie’s face crinkled with concern. “Wade, do you think Rev. Johnson’s son would do such a thing?”
“I never thought my son would do such a thing.”
“So what are you going to do, send me to jail?” Dallas asked angrily. His parents were even dumber than he thought they were.
His father sighed, expelling enough air to tickle the back of Dallas’s neck. He sat down next to him and folded his hands on the table. “I talked to Bill and worked out an agreement to keep you out of juvie court. He said if you were willing to clean up the mess you made, he won’t press charges.”
Dallas stared out the window again. Maybe if I pretend I’m not here, they’ll just go away.
“Would you rather take the chance on getting a tough judge?” his dad asked, his voice rising to an exasperated pitch. “You know you could get worse punishment.”
Dallas thought about it. Either way wouldn’t be much fun. “Whatever,” he said with a shrug.
“Don’t tell me ‘whatever,’ Dallas. You got yourself into this trouble, now you decide how to get out of it.”
Dallas waited to hear more, stalling, but his folks just sat there glaring at him. “I guess I’ll clean up the porch.”
“Well, actually I told Bill that you needed to do more than just cover up the mess you made,” his father said. “You’ll paint the whole house—and do a good job of it, too.”
“Take it or leave it, Dallas. Paint the house or face the judge. Oh, and did I mention your driver’s license is on the line here?”
“What do you mean?”
“What I’m saying is that until this is all resolved, you’re not going to drive.”
“But Dad, my 16th birthday is just two weeks away.”
“I don’t care, Dallas. Until you admit you’ve done something wrong and serve the consequences –”
“Whatever happened to the idea of ‘innocent until proven guilty?’”
His dad almost smiled. “Guess that doesn’t apply to Bill, so why should it apply to you?”
Crap, I kinda walked into that one.
“Like I said, Dallas, you can face the judge if you think you’re not guilty of any wrongdoing. But painting Bill’s house sounds a whole lot better to me. Oh, and by the way, if you do decide to go to court, let me remind you that sometimes it takes a few months to resolve.”
“So basically I don’t have a choice.”
“Sure you do.”
“Not if I want to drive to school this fall. Not that I have anything to drive.”
Wade smirked. He knew he had Dallas beat.
“Alright,” Dallas said, rolling out of his chair. He couldn’t take much more of this.
His dad cocked his head. “What’s that? You’re agreeing to paint Bill’s house?”
“Alright, alright, alright,” Dallas said, throwing up his hands. “Have it your way. I’ll paint the old fart’s house.”
His mom gasped and he hustled down the hall toward his room. But it was Wade that got the last word in. “Oh, and Dallas, make sure you get plenty of sleep tonight, because you’ll be walking up Ruby Road at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning.”