Bob Patterson considers himself an Everyman - albeit an Everyman with a rich, beautiful wife, two good kids, and a mail-it-in job that ignores his law degree. Despite his good fortune, Bob is idling through life, bored at work and at home. In short, he is the proverbial Coaster.
Bob's wife, Sarah, is the anointed heir to the empire built by her father, Sam, a kind of Kansas City, Missouri, Warren Buffet. Fine by Bob, the family soccer mom. But early one morning he and Sarah awake to terrible news.
Sam's death reveals he appointed Bob to be the trustee of his personal fortune and, as the IRS currently has it, he'll be in charge of his mother-in-law's money. Even more terrifying, Bob realizes he faces the prospect of actually working all day, for stakes that matter.
Is the reappearance of Bob's wildest fraternity brother from college and a proposal from a bland businessman with a plan that seems too good to be true mere coincidence? A businessman who refuses to take No for an answer. After a lifetime of choosing the path of least resistance, will Bob finally take a stand when his family needs him most? If so, where?
Bob peppers his story with sports and pop culture references and wry commentary on everything from the sex lives of married couples (such as they are) to the enormous cost of being "honored" at a charitable event. Bob knows what the hero should do in the situations he encounters (he's read the books and seen the movies, too). He doesn't have "a very particular set of skills" or a secret past in the Special Forces. He's just a regular guy who handles extreme pressure and threats to his family about like you'd expect (not well). It's going to take all he's got (really, more than he's got) to raise his game. Fortunately he's got an ace-in-the-hole...at home.
Darkly comic, The Coaster turns the conventions of the mystery/suspense genre upside down.
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About the Author
Erich Wurster lives in Prairie Village, Kansas with his wife and teenage daughter. He also has three sons. It's been a pretty long marriage. When he is not writing, Erich spends his time thinking of excuses to avoid writing and annoying his daughter by talking to her friends in the car. This is his first novel.
Read an Excerpt
By Erich Wurster
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2016 Erich Wurster
All rights reserved.
I didn't know it at the time, but everything started in late December, that week after Christmas when everybody is just kind of half-working. A regular week for me. This particular morning was memorable only because at 6:05 am, forty minutes before the alarm was set to go off, my wife reached over and gave me the sex tap on my shoulder. Sex is mostly a morning activity for us. At night, we're too tired. Well, I'm not. But my wife is "fucking exhausted" every night.
The sad thing is we used to have sex all the time, even spontaneously. Once the kids were born, the frequency declined but there was still mutual interest. Now I let her decide. It's easier that way. Under our current implied contract, when enough time has elapsed, duty calls and she gives me the tap. Almost always first thing in the morning.
Morning sex, for my wife, is "get it out of the way" sex. She's crossing it off her to-do list, like picking up the dry cleaning or calling the cable guy: Let's knock this out before breakfast and get on with our day. An added bonus for her is at that time of day I haven't had a chance to annoy her yet so her feelings for me are generally positive. Sarah enjoys it once we get started, though sex for her is one of those things that's often more trouble than it's worth. I can relate. That's my attitude about everything except sex.
This particular morning, the normal process was underway. Our dogs had taken up their usual positions of prime viewing, which is disconcerting, but as we were finishing (or I was), I rose far enough off the mattress to look out the window and make eye contact with a guy sitting in a pickup truck not thirty feet from my bedroom.
"Sarah, I think the roofers are here." They apparently arrive early and watch their customers have sex until their work can properly begin at seven.
We dove onto the floor and crawled naked together toward the bathroom. When we were a few feet from safety, our bedroom door opened and there stood nine-year-old Emily with her blanket and favorite stuffed animal, Justin Beaver.
"Hi, Mommy," she said. "What are you guys doing?"
"Daddy lost a contact lens," Sarah said from all fours.
"Didn't Daddy have Lasik surgery a couple of years ago?"
"It's been lost for a long time, honey," I said. "Now go get your brother up for breakfast."
* * *
By the time I'd showered and fixed breakfast, Emily had forgotten the naked contact lens search. Like gunslinging quarterbacks, kids have short memories. They don't worry about that interception they just threw. They take another shot downfield. I dropped the kids at school and then spent a normal day at the office doing whatever it is I do there. It seems impossible that whatever minor tasks I accomplish could add up to a full day, but they always do.
Around two, my cell phone rang. More often than not, it's my wife, and it was.
"Is now a good time?"
Not really. By her standards, I'm not doing anything. By my standards, I'm very busy. "Not really. I've got a —"
My wife thinks "Is now a good time?" is a rhetorical question. "This'll just take a second. You remember we've got Mom and Dad's charity thing tonight?"
Sarah likes to pretend we've already discussed something that she's springing on me out of the blue or mentioned months ago. She's afraid I'll try to get out of it if I have advance warning. Still, this was a command performance. The "charity thing" was a benefit gala for the art gallery or the natural history museum or whatever, a black-tie event her parents were involved with.
"It's not that I don't remember. You haven't said anything about it."
"Well, it's on the board." Every Sunday night, my wife carefully updates the weekly family calendar to keep track of all our events. Apparently she'd buried "Benefit Gala" in the middle of a week of basketball practices, haircuts, and dentist appointments on the calendar. I would argue that an entry as horrifying as "Benefit Gala" should not be simply written in ordinary script in the middle of the calendar but delivered to me verbally.
Sarah interrupted my reverie. "Why aren't you saying anything? Do you have a gun to your head?" Whenever either of us acts weird on the phone, the other asks if there's a gun to our head in case we sound strange because we're trying to send a coded message without alerting our abductors. It hasn't happened yet, but you never know. It's best to be prepared.
"Not this time," I said with a frustrated sigh. "But I wish I had known sooner."
Good god! A benefit gala! A cold trickle of sweat dripped out of my armpit and down my rib cage at the mere thought of it. Mingling for hours with a bunch of do-gooders. I would have to be on my A game, which required just the right mix of various alcohols. I really needed one of those pumps that keeps an ICU patient constantly medicated at the appropriate level. Instead, I would rely on my years of experience with scotch and tequila.
"You're not fooling me. I saw you checking your tux this morning. Anyway, the tickets are still at Dad's office. Can you stop by on your way home and pick them up?"
Sure I could. I looked at the calendar on my computer. Completely blank. "I guess I could move a few things around and make some time."
The truth is, I spend my days pretending to be "a hardworking businessman" and "a pillar of our community." Even though I'm not that smart or successful, everyone thinks I am. My entire life feels like a lie. Not a big, interesting, book-worthy lie, as if I've got a secret family locked in the dungeon under my house. Just a series of small, meaningless deceptions to hide my true self from others. Maybe "lie" is a little strong. Let's say people only know the me I pretend to be.
"Thanks, honey. You're the best. Be home by five so you have time to get ready. We can't be late for this." Sarah worries about whether I'll be on time despite my DiMaggio-esque streak of being ready before her 847 times in a row (all numbers approximate).
"Okay. Love you."
"Love you, too."
Our phone I love you's outnumber our in-person I love you's about a hundred to one. It's easier to say if you can't see the other person.
* * *
Sarah's father, Sam, helped me get set up in business. My little company manages a number of properties owned by his various businesses. I am nominally in charge.
Sarah is the president to her father's chief executive officer of The Bennett Company. Like America, their business is business, which is another way of saying I don't really know what they do. But I do know that Sam built the business up from nothing, and now he was grooming his heir apparent, who also happened to be his actual heir and my lovely wife, to someday take his place. So Sarah is our family's primary breadwinner; I am its soccer mom.
Sarah spends most of her time at the company's newer offices across town. They ran out of space at their original location, but Sam insisted on keeping the office where he started Bennett Capital forty years ago. He told me he didn't need some fancy office to impress people, but I think he wanted to give Sarah the freedom to do her job without his constantly looking over her shoulder.
Sam's executive assistant was sitting at the desk outside his office. Her name is Harriet Buchanan and she had been with Sam from the beginning. Harriet isn't a secretary. She has her own secretary. She is a gatekeeper and a scheduler and Sam's right-hand woman. Harriet never married and the cliché would be that she was in love with Sam and married to her work, but I have no idea if that's true. For all I know, she's married to Melissa Etheridge and has as many adopted children as Rosie O'Donnell.
Harriet, I like. I am always glad to see her. She looked up and smiled when she saw me.
I nodded in her direction. "Moneypenny."
"Mr. Bond. What brings you down to headquarters?"
"Important business, Moneypenny. A man like me doesn't have spare time during my busy week to waste on social visits."
Harriet raised an eyebrow. "At least not social visits where both your wife and father-in-law work."
"Accurate but hurtful, Harriet," I said. "I'm actually here on an errand for said wife. She left the tickets for tonight here."
"You're going to need those," Harriet said. "I'll go look on her desk."
"Thanks," I said. "Is the big man in his office?"
"Sure, go on in. He's alone."
I knocked on Sam's door and stuck in my head. He was on the phone but waved me to a chair in front of his desk. He literally made more phone calls in a week than I made in a year. Even when we played golf, he'd often skip a hole to take an important call. He wasn't being rude and no one was offended. He is that important to his business. The decision couldn't be made without him. Very few decisions required my input, at work or at home.
Sam is nearing seventy, but you'd never know it. Sure, he'd lost a little hair, and what he had was gray, which he cut himself with clippers on the eighth-inch setting. He would never take the time to hide his male-pattern baldness by shaving his head completely, and he lost respect for those who did.
Sam has the vitality of a much younger man. He only needs glasses for reading and he is in better shape than I am, even though he never seems to work out. His passion for life keeps him fit. Early to bed, early to rise, work his ass off in between, pretty much the opposite of me. But I love him and respect him. Probably because he is the opposite of me.
When he hung up, I said, "I just stopped by to get our tickets and wish you good luck. We probably won't get much of a chance to talk tonight. Everybody's going to want their time with the guest of honor."
"Thanks, Bob. I'm glad you're here. I've been meaning to set up a time for us to get together."
"Oh? Well, I'm sure whatever's good for Sarah is fine with me."
"No, I mean just the two of us. I've got some things I want to discuss with you."
Just the two of us? I didn't know whether to be frightened or flattered. "What about?"
"There's no time to get into it today," Sam said. "I'll have Harriet schedule something for next week. I've got a speech to give tonight and I'm sure you have work to do."
I looked at my watch. "Not really. I just have to go home and get ready for the gala."
"All part of the job of being my son-in-law and my daughter's husband." Sam stood up, shook my hand, and eyed me with the steely gaze that had won a thousand negotiations. "And believe me, Bob, I know it's not an easy one. I probably don't say it enough but I appreciate all you do for the family."
What was going on? All I could think of was the scene in Goodfellas when they told Joe Pesci he was going to become a made man right before they shot him in the back of the head. "Thanks for saying that, Sam. It means a lot coming from you." It really did.
* * *
Sarah and I have been married for nineteen years. We met in college, a classic Hollywood "meet cute." I was protesting outside Planned Parenthood and she tried to cross our picket line to get an abortion. We hated each other at first, but I won her over. ... Okay, that didn't happen. We met at a party for the rich and privileged. She liked me right away, or we never would have gotten together.
Sarah is a beautiful woman, with dark hair and a killer body even after two children. She's too good-looking for me. They say a man has outkicked his coverage when his wife is better than he deserves. Well, I kicked the ball clear out of the end zone for a touchback.
We decided to cap the family at four after Nick and Emily were born. If I were the mother, we could have had more, but Sarah needed to get back to work. Plus, our friends who have more than two kids find that with the third child, the parents are constantly outnumbered. They're up against a permanent power play where the other side always has a one-man advantage. Those parents have no choice but to go to a zone defense and we're a man-to-man team all the way. In fact, at this stage of our lives, Sarah and I are more like child-rearing partners than a romantic couple. Getting married is basically forming a two-person company with the craziest person you've ever worked with. And it's a lifetime fucking contract.
Anyone who knows us would consider us "rich," and in a way we are. My wife makes a hefty salary and I make more than I deserve. The shadow of my wife's family money looms over everything. People want to be in business with my father-in-law, and by extension with us, despite our less than favorable personal balance sheet. True, we spend a shitload of money, but we don't actually have any money. I'm afraid to sit down and run the numbers, though I'm confident our net worth is negative. On a monthly basis, there's more going out than coming in. We're as nervous and anxious about money as people who are barely making ends meet, but on a grander scale. We're still in debt. We still worry about paying the bills every month. They're just a lot bigger bills: ten-thousand-dollar mortgage payments instead of five-hundred-dollar rent checks.
We live on a substantial piece of land in the country, just outside of Kansas City. That's Missouri, not Kansas, a distinction that is lost on the national media. Not that it matters. Names and places have been changed to protect the guilty.
The property is more a non-working farm than an estate. Our house is spacious, but lived in. We're not hosting a lot of fancy dinner parties out in the country. We have horses, a barn and stable to house them, and a couple hundred acres of grassy fields for them to roam. There's a pond where my son and I like to pretend to fish to get out of chores assigned by his mother. We also have a little guest house where ranch hands might have bunked back in the day, but our wrangling needs are currently minimal. Still — and easy to say when you've always had plenty — I've never cared about money. But I do want to be respected as someone who is earning his own way instead of riding on his wife's coattails. Or her father's.CHAPTER 2
I got home promptly at five as requested and fixed myself a drink. As I sat down to relax, I heard a truck pull up our gravel driveway. I walked over to the kitchen window and looked out to see what my wife was up to now. Nothing really would have surprised me, but almost anything would have annoyed me.
I heard a piercing whinny and saw a horse trailer headed for our barn. Most of Sarah's financially ruinous boondoggles involve horses. She can't bear to see one put down, so we're generally running an old folks' home for horses. We could have fed and clothed ten villages in Africa for every horse we've ushered gently over to the other side.
One time Sarah brought home a horse so old my dog, Max, tried to drag him into the house and put him in his bowl. His back was so swayed, your feet would touch the ground if you tried to ride him, not that anyone would. You could walk faster. The few remaining strands of hair that passed for his tail couldn't even knock a fly out of the air. Instead of his name, it should have said Do Not Resuscitate over his stall.
The poor creature was miserable. So naturally Sarah wanted him to undergo an expensive medical procedure that would extend his wretched existence a few months or years. If he were lucky, it would kill him. It's always difficult to tell the vet something is a little too expensive for a mere animal, especially when your sobbing wife probably told him to do whatever it takes to save Gluey. I always assume the vet is an animal lover or he wouldn't have become a vet in the first place, so I tread carefully.
The vet put a hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and, perhaps blinking back a tear, said, "Don't worry, Bob. I know how much you love Gluey, and I can assure you he'll receive the best equine medical care in the world." And that's what he got. Those last two weeks hooked up to one-hundred-thousand-dollar machines may have been the best of Gluey's life.
I drained my scotch, washed out my glass in the sink — it was nice to get one in before Sarah started counting — and headed outside. When I got to the barn, Sarah and her trainer were wrestling a big black stallion out of the trailer. I could tell it was a stallion because I know a lot about horses. And it was wild and aggressive. And it had a big black cock.
Sarah was struggling to get the beast into a stall.
"What do we have here, honey?"
Sarah turned and smiled sheepishly. "Bob, this is Oedipus Platinum. He's going to be staying with us for a while."
"That's good. We need some more aggressive, violent animals around here. The kids are getting too comfortable."
"They'll be fine."
"By the way, didn't the original Oedipus screw his mother and kill his father?"
"I have no plans to screw the horse, Bob."
"So you're leaving open the possibility that he might kill me."
"I'm not his mother and you're not his father. Oedipus is his show name. His barn name is Rex."
Excerpted from The Coaster by Erich Wurster. Copyright © 2016 Erich Wurster. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
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