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Cheating husband? Feed him to the zombies!
You know early on, from the color of the inappropriate bra in the opening scene, that Zombie Candy is going to be a black comedy. Most people could sympathize with the male obsession for sex and zombie movies, but who would put up with a husband who doused every dish with cilantro?
Frederick Lee Brooke serves up another literary treat with this bizarre and comical tale of love and betrayal. Candace Roach enlists her best friend Annie Ogden (our favorite sleuth from Doing Max Vinyl) to find out what her husband is really up to on his weekly business trips – but their home-cooked aversion therapy gets out of hand and hurtles along an astonishing highway of the undead.
Weaving elements of mystery, horror and romance in a story that starts in Chicago and ends in a quaint medieval town in sun-drenched Tuscany, Zombie Candy transcends any single genre.
Home for good from Iraq but unsure about her future, Annie Ogden isn't your typical woman sleuth. Her best friend, Candace Roach – gourmet cooking instructor, owner of a house in Tuscany – isn't your typical wronged woman either. Candace teaches gourmet cooking, and loves nothing more than orchestrating a four-course meal full of flavorful surprises and artistic touches. A selection of her recipes is found in an appendix to the book.
But with each shocking discovery in the investigation of her husband, the friendship between Candace and Annie is further put to the test. Candace ultimately takes matters into her own hands and, in an elaborate ruse, stages a nightmarish zombie drama in which her husband plays the starring role.
In the words of Emma Calin, author of Knockout, A Passionate Police Romance: "This book has all the ingredients of a perfect noir comedy – well formed characters, international locations, a fast moving plot with no brakes, and of course zombies. Revenge is a dish best served cold – and as a betrayed wife, master chef and cookery instructor, Candace cooks up the perfect recipe for the ultimate gazpacho."
“Are you trying to kill me? That thing is soaked in oil,” Candace's husband said.
Larry had walked in nearly an hour late. His clothes smelled like new-car leather, making her think maybe he had just been driving around all this time in his new red BMW. And he was criticizing the food.
“You love my ratatouille.” She held the steaming Pyrex for him to admire. She had made it for him. Thin slices of zucchini, eggplant and red bell pepper simmered over an hour in their own juices, just a hint of tomato sauce and olive oil to pull it together. Crispy on top, the edges perfectly browned after the last three minutes under the broiler. His underhanded comments about her weight hurt. “Olive oil is a healthy choice. Since when did you have a problem with olive oil?”
“Calorie bombs.” He jabbed at her twice-baked potatoes with a fork. First the ratatouille, now the potatoes. He loved twice-baked potatoes.
But now he did something even more unexpected. He reached in under the hot Pyrex she was holding with potholders and pinched her in the stomach, taking a roll of skin between his fingers and holding on. With both hands occupied she couldn’t even defend herself. He was pinching her. One slight move, she could burn him badly. But then she would have ratatouille all over the kitchen floor. Had he even noticed her new burgundy silk blouse? The way it flattered her waist?
“Let go. Where have you been? I could’ve used some help, you know.”
They had already finished cocktails. She had dragged Larry into the kitchen while the others waited in the living room. And what was he doing? He was pinching her.
“Why do you always load everything with calories?”
So much for the flattering effects of her new blouse ... and that bitch at Nordstrom who’d pushed it on her. She tossed him a potholder.
“If you wanted to have a say, you should’ve helped me cook. Take that to the table and come back.”
Rubbing the spot where he’d pinched her, Candace sucked in her gut and stuck out her chest. She could walk like this if he wanted. Her legs turned him on, and the two-inch heels didn’t hurt. And, of course, her breasts. He never tired of burying his face in her big scrumptious melons. He never neglected them in their lovemaking. Those were pluses.
The tiny black bra in his suitcase was not a plus.
That bra had bothered her all day, ever since she unpacked his bag. Larry flew somewhere on business every week. He had gotten back last night from Atlanta. And this morning, to her astonishment, she had found a small black bra in his suitcase. A size 32A. What was he doing with a bra in his suitcase? That’s what she wanted to know. That bra had troubled her so much, she had busied herself all morning making bread.
He always left so early, he never actually saw her unshowered, messy hair, all flouncy-bouncy. He’d been long gone when she unpacked his boxers, his undershirts, his socks. The black bra had simply appeared with all the other things she pulled out.
When you were five nine you were never going to be a featherweight, let’s face it. But recently she’d hit a depressing new top weight of 185 pounds. Fifty pounds over her college weight. Of course she'd been a stick in college. Still, did that give him any right to pinch her?
“Larry, what’s this?” she asked when he came back in the kitchen. The little black bra dangled from her fingers. A grin plastered his face. He had a deck of cards in one hand. At the sight of the bra his grin melted down like butter in a skillet.
“You’re asking me?” Larry said.
“I found it in your suitcase this morning.”
“My suitcase? I don’t think so. What would I have one of those for? Candace, we’ve got people waiting.” His cheeks had turned the color of the roast beef. He grabbed the platter and escaped to the dining room.
In the dining room she found them all sitting at the table, dishing out food. Her roommate from college, Annie Ogden, was taking a potato. They had been friends since their first day of college ten years ago. People always said they looked funny together. Candace was a head taller and Annie had that light blond hair, but they had done everything together for years, through college and afterwards, even after Candace had gotten married, right up until Annie joined the army and left for Iraq. Annie must have been the cutest soldier in Baghdad, Candace always thought. How they had cried together when Annie had come home for good six months ago.
Annie’s sister Alison was here, and Alison’s husband Todd, a Tribune writer. Alison wanted the potato recipe.
“Sour cream, minced onions, cheddar,” Candace said. The problem with Annie’s sister was you could give her a recipe, but she always found a way to mess it up anyway. “Ground pepper. Chopped celery. Two tablespoons of mayonnaise. You have to puree the potato just like mashed potatoes, only you replace half the milk with grated cheese.”
“What kind of cheese?” Alison asked.
“Whatever you’ve got around the house. I use a mix of mild cheddar and Swiss. Anything that melts, really. But the kicker is the lobster. You don’t want them to come out fishy, but it gives them that rich ... something extra.”
“And caviar on top. Mmmm,” Annie said.
The small mound of caviar in its little crystal bowl, on a bed of crushed ice ... Candace watched Annie dab a spoonful on the potato crust. The caviar and the lobster flavors harmonized with accents of cheddar, sour cream and celery. Pure heaven.
“Where’s the cilantro?” Larry asked. “It’s so good with your potatoes.”
Why did he have to put cilantro on everything? You did not put cilantro on the table with caviar. In the kitchen she fumed, chopping a few sprigs of cilantro and arranging them on a plate with half a cherry tomato as a garnish. Her anger surged as her blood sugar sank. She still hadn’t taken a bite of food. The black bra sat on top of the microwave, where she had left it.
By the time she returned to her guests, Larry was in the middle of his memory trick. The same trick he always did. Larry thought guests had to be entertained.
“Queen of diamonds,” he said. “Two of clubs. Seven of spades. Jack of hearts.”
Alison and Annie held the deck and checked his accuracy. They watched as he recited the whole deck in order. Nobody ate. Candace saw the potatoes deflating as he named card after card from memory. The guests watched Larry and she watched them; they watched his face the way you studied a magician, trying to guess the trick. Then he was done. Oohs and ahhs all around.
“I shuffled ten times,” Todd said. “He couldn’t have memorized them before.”
“Five minutes is what I need. About five minutes to memorize the order,” Larry said. “It’s not world class. World class is less than two minutes.”
Alison, hand on tummy: “I want our baby to have a photographic memory.”
How annoying that Annie’s sister kept mentioning her baby. That was how pregnant women were. Every topic reminded them of their baby. Every baby was destined to be a genius. Well, more wine for the rest of them.
“It’s technique,” Larry said. “But you have to practice. I practice with cards and numbers. Give me your credit card, in ten seconds I’ll memorize the number. I can recite it to you now, in an hour, or next week, no problem.”
“You’re not getting my credit card,” Todd said.
“What’s the point of memorizing numbers?” Annie asked. “My phone numbers are saved in my phone. I don’t even have to memorize them.”
“She’s right,” Todd said. “For everything else there’s Google.”
“Your brains are probably turning to mush.”
“That’s a hell of a thing to say to our friends,” Candace said.
“Our brains are mush. We’re zombies,” Todd said. He made his eyes roll up and his mouth hang open.
“Shut up, moron,” his wife said.
“If you don’t use it, it’s like any other muscle. It’s going to atrophy. We’re all getting older, right?” Larry said.
“Like you’re so old. You turned twenty-nine last month.”
“So kind of you to reveal that, Candace.”
“Wait, so you’re saying memorizing things slows the aging process?” Alison said.
“It’s one way,” Larry said.
“The brain is an organ, not a muscle,” said Todd.
“Just an analogy for things that atrophy. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.” Larry looked round the table. “So Annie, what’s it like being back? We haven’t seen you much. How long have you been back?”
Larry always changed the subject when he was losing an argument.
“Annie did a course and got her PI license. She’s a private investigator now,” Alison said.
Candace nearly dropped her fork. She locked eyes with her best friend. “When was this? Why am I the last to know?”
“I’m amazed they would license you for a gun,” Larry said.
“I guess she handled a few guns defending our asses in Baghdad,” Candace said. “Have you forgotten where Annie was for the last four years?”
Annie had a sheepish look. “I didn’t tell you because I wasn’t sure I was really going to do it. Then I wasn’t sure I was going to finish. I actually don’t even know why I did the course.”
“Now I understand why you kept cancelling Monday mornings,” Candace said. Though it was odd Annie hadn’t told her anything. That wasn’t like her at all. They told each other everything. Maybe she had a new boyfriend she didn’t want to say anything about just yet. Certainly she wouldn’t want to talk about it here. What a welcome development that would be.
“Just the last four weeks,” Annie said.
“You couldn’t exactly go back to teaching third grade,” Alison said.
“Plus you enjoy beating the living daylights out of guys twice your size,” Todd said.
“Oh? You enjoy beating people up? Is this some new Annie I’ve never met?” Larry asked. He stood to open another bottle of wine.
Annie was suddenly looking extremely uncomfortable. Candace knew she’d never liked talking about herself. Before Annie had to come up with an answer, Candace jumped in.
“Hey everyone, look what Larry brought me back from — where was it, Atlanta, honey?”
She held up the black bra over her plate, dangling it from her index finger. She heard the quick intake of breath around the table. Larry stopped working on the cork. He stared as if she had lost her mind.
“Uh, yeah, Atlanta.”
“I know you meant well, honey. Only it’s the wrong size. Way the wrong size, wouldn’t you say?” She pushed her chair back and stood up, holding the tiny bra in front of her bosom.
The male clearing of throat to her left. Why were men such prudes? It was a bra. For the support of breasts. Maybe Todd should make a diagram or something for the Tribune’s male readership.
“Only there wasn’t any gift wrapping. That’s what I don’t understand.” The bra hung from her little finger. Larry’s blank look might be comical if she weren’t so angry. Suddenly she realized she was furious. That was why she was standing here, making a fool out of herself. The others had gone totally silent. Larry looked like he wanted to say something, but for once nothing came out. “No little bag. No gift receipt. I’m talking to you, Larry.”
“So I got the size wrong. Can’t you just be happy I got you something?”
This came in an angry burst. Now she was the one at a loss for words. This was unexpected. He was going along with it. He actually admitted that the bra had come back with him. She struggled to think where she had left off.
“But the size is so incredibly wrong, honey. Here ... let me show you.”
The problem was he was so good at sweeping things under the rug. He was so glib. She realized what she wanted now. She wanted witnesses. This bra had never been meant for her. He might not have even known it was in his suitcase. She wanted to catch him out. She started unbuttoning her blouse. It was cumbersome with the bra in her left hand, and so many of these tiny burgundy buttons.
“It was strange,” she went on, since everyone was sitting there so silent, watching her, “the way it was stuffed into that little side pocket of your suitcase. I unpacked it after you left for work today.”
“Candace, what are you doing?” Annie had a winey smile on her face. They were all gaping at her.
Most of the buttons were undone. Underneath she wore a black silk camisole.
“Oh, all right. Hang on, I’ll be right back.”
“Candace,” Larry barked. She didn’t answer. She escaped to the kitchen, where she had another glass of wine going. A little wine gave a woman a lot of courage.
Her best friend’s little performance amazed Annie. Confronting Larry in front of everyone like this. What was with that bra, anyway? She hoped it wasn’t what she thought it was.
For a full minute no one said anything.
“She’s your friend. Maybe you can talk some sense into her,” Larry said.
“I don’t get it. Was it really a present, or what?” Annie said.
“Which part of that wasn’t clear?”
Larry’s aggressive response was totally uncalled for. He snarled at her, like a cat hissing. She couldn't let that go.
“Sure looks like the wrong size for Candace. Maybe it would fit you.” Annie had spent four years in the army dealing with male bluster, and she could give it right back. She wasn't the wallflower Larry had once known. The look on his face was priceless. He actually turned pale, as if there might be some truth to her suggestion that he put on women's clothes for kicks.
Then Candace came back in the dining room. She was naked on top except for the bra, and Annie noticed just how much extra flesh Candace was carrying. Her friend flashed a lipstick smile, but it didn’t stay, and her eyes looked desolate. God, Candace had to be in a sorry state to do something like this. Why did Candace always think everything was her fault?
Candace stood by the door to the kitchen looking uncertain with the bra straps in both hands behind her back, still unfastened. The little black triangles of fabric covered her nipples, but not much more. She looked like one of those Brazilian samba dancers up on a carnival float.
“Jesus, what’s gotten into you?” Larry said. Then, to Todd, “It’s like she’s possessed tonight, like she’s the zombie.”
Annie knew Larry was provoking Candace now. How many times had she heard about it from Candace ... every Sunday afternoon, all Larry ever wanted to do was watch zombie movies. The same movies, over and over.
“Do me a favor, hook these together? I couldn’t do it myself.”
“I’m not going on with this farce, Candace.” Larry turned as if he were planning to walk out of the room.
“Someone else, please? I need a volunteer.” Now Candace faced the others.
“Journalist killed fastening bra,” Todd intoned.
“Shut up,” Alison said. “Excuse my husband. Sometimes he talks in headlines. Annie, aren’t you going to help her?”
“Don’t touch that, I’ll do it,” Larry said. Annie stopped. Larry grabbed the straps from Candace. One strap in each hand, he started stretching and pulling them together.
Annie saw a huge bright red mark on Candace's tummy. Right on her spare tire, like a burn. She pointed. “Did you burn yourself?”
“Thanks, Annie,” Candace said wryly.
Maybe Candace didn't like her calling attention to a red mark on her tummy.
The problem was the black bra was not only built for smaller breasts, it was built for a slimmer woman. Annie saw Candace holding her breath, but the edges pressed deeply into her flesh as Larry tugged harder. The bra stretched in front as he pulled harder in the back. Her boobs bulged out under the small black cups as they were pressed flatter. Annie was afraid the bra would break under the strain. Finally, with a great effort, Larry got the clasp attached, and Candace turned to model it.
“See? I’m a 38DD, honey. Not a 32A.”
“Now I know. Now everybody in the room knows.” He sounded grumpy.
“That bra would fit me fine,” Alison said. “So far at least. Maybe not in a few months.” She smiled sweetly.
“You’re 32A?” Candace said.
“But you weren’t in Atlanta, were you?” Annie directed this question at her sister. It must have been the wine. She blushed as soon as she had said it.
“Ha ha, very funny,” Larry said. “Can’t we just eat? You didn’t tell me we were going to have a strip show.”
“I was only trying on your present, darling.”
“Looks like someone’s got some explaining to do,” Annie said as Candace went back in the kitchen.
“I think somebody should mind their own business,” Larry said. When he glared at her, his eyes looked like there was a fire smoldering behind them. Annie made a point of not looking away first. The resemblance to Russell Crowe never ceased to amaze her, even now, nine full years after she had first met him. Even as he shot her his look of fury.
If he was cheating on Candace, she knew damn well whose side she was on.
They sat down at the table again, but Annie didn’t feel like eating. Candace’s stunt had thrown her mind into turmoil, and her appetite was gone. She had been sure everything was okay with Candace and Larry. She’d had no idea they had a problem. Now this! Candace must be going through hell, and she hadn’t said a thing.
After Candace came back to the table, you would have thought someone had died from the expression on her face. It must have taken every ounce of courage to stand up to Larry like that. She smiled, she ate, she even chatted, but Annie knew her friend must be crying inside.
The rest of the evening Annie hardly ate another bite.