When Jay Desmarteaux steps out of from prison after serving twenty-five years for murdering a vicious school bully, he tries to follow his convict mentor’s advice: the best revenge is living well.
But questions gnaw at his gut: Where have his folks disappeared to? Why do old friends want him gone? And who wants him dead?
Teaming with his high school sweetheart turned legal Valkyrie, a hulking body shop bodybuilder, and a razor-wielding gentleman’s club house mother, Jay will unravel a tangle of deception all the way back to the bayous where he was born. With an iron-fisted police chief on his tail and a ruthless mob captain at his throat, he’ll need his wits, his fists, and his father’s trusty Vietnam war hatchet to hack his way through a toxic jungle of New Jersey corruption that makes the gator-filled swamps of home feel like the shallow end of the kiddie pool.
|Publisher:||Down & Out Books II, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||8.30(w) x 5.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Bad Boy Boogie
By Thomas Pluck
Down & Out BooksCopyright © 2017 Thomas Pluck
All rights reserved.
When Jay Desmarteaux walked out the gates of Rahway Prison, the sun hit his face like air on a fresh wound. The breeze smelled different, felt charged, electric. A rawboned middleweight, he was broad at the shoulders and hips, as if God had attempted to halt his growth and he'd thickened out of spite.
"Go on," the guard said. Jay couldn't remember his name, but he was all right, as far as COs went. "Ride's waiting for you at the curb."
Jay squinted at the road. The only vehicle waiting in the early summer heat was a black Suburban parked at the yellow curb. The wind played with his shock of black hair. He had spent twenty-five years as a monk locked inside a dank Shaolin temple dedicated to violence and human predation while the men who put him there lived free from fear.
Men who needed killing.
Mama Angeline raised him to understand that some folks just needed killing. There was nothing you could do for them.
And she'd been right.
He'd met many such people, both in prison and the real world. He didn't make a habit of giving them what they needed. There were too many of them.
He hadn't been all that surprised when he'd been unable to convince either the police or the jury to agree. The friends he'd saved from the rotten son of a bitch's rape and torment had either been too afraid to speak the truth, threatened out of doing so, or in one case, had twisted things around to ensure Jay's imprisonment.
But that didn't change the fact that Joey Bello had needed killing.
Jay had been vocal about it, before he had expectations of ever walking free. The sentence, delivered a month past his sixteenth birthday, had been life without parole. Then after twenty years behind bars, thinking it was his forever-home, the Supreme Court ruled that sentencing a juvenile to LWOP was cruel and unusual punishment.
He wasted no time finding a jailhouse lawyer, and after years of appeals, they got the attention of a bleeding heart named Martins, who did pro bono work for lost causes such as Jay's. There'd been pushback, from law enforcement and the Bello family; Jay's case got bounced from court to court as defense and prosecution appealed, until a circuit judge ruled that despite the infamy of his crime, Jay had served more time than any other juvenile in the state, and sentenced him to time served.
After that it was all paperwork, according to Martins. They put him in reentry classes, but Jay had been one step ahead: after he'd beaten the rage out of his young hands in the yard or in the boxing ring, he'd gotten his GED and taken every mechanic and repair course the prison offered. Five years back, the governor had even given him a special award for having more certifications than anyone in the country, free or imprisoned. The man's rubbery smile had been fake as plastic fishing worms, but he'd used Jay's example to get the prison a new auto shop, built by one of his cronies. The old shitbird warden, unfazed by Jay's newfound penitence, made life hell for him until the day he retired, but the inmates and even some of the guards gave him respect.
He'd get none of that outside. The best he could hope to be was to be anonymous, which would be difficult given the infamy of his crime.
All he could do was live well. Okie, his old con mentor, always said that was the best revenge.
Jay felt otherwise.
The air electrified his lungs. He left the guard without a word and pointed his brogans toward the pickup area, following a chain fence topped with a Slinky of razor wire toward the row of waiting cars. Okie had told him it was bad luck to look back on freedom day, so Jay didn't even peek over his shoulder once at the dirty brick castle he had called home since his eighteenth year.
He flipped it the finger.
Two men got out of the black Suburban wearing jeans and black T-shirts. They had the scoured faces of men who'd endured the desert sun. Black fanny packs at their belts. They smelled like cop.
"Martins sent us," the driver said, and held out an envelope.
Jay opened it. Greyhound ticket, Newark to New Orleans.
The passenger, a big man with a brush cut, opened the rear door for him.
Jay obeyed out of habit, then cursed himself, holding his duffel bag possessively in his lap. He'd have to get used to doing things his own way. No one out here could put black marks in his jacket, or take away his privileges. Get him thrown in Ad Seg, alone with four green walls until he punched the bricks to feel anything other than bugshit crazy.
Brush Cut got in beside him. The truck smelled of mint chewing gum and new leather. The air conditioning felt like heaven.
"First class chauffeur service," the driver said. "Only the best."
The truck rumbled toward the highway.
That morning two guards had taken Jay to administrative segregation with the punks, psychos, and informers, where the reentry counselor told him his release date had been moved up, citing good behavior. Jay found that hard to believe, but hadn't argued. The little man rushed through his spiel and gave him a duffel containing safe sex pamphlets, a pack of condoms, a cheap fleece hoodie, and a spare pair of socks and underwear. Then the bursar gave him a sizable roll of twenties. His gate money, minus fees.
"We took the liberty of purchasing you a bus ticket to New Orleans," the social worker said. "Martins said that's where your family's from."
Jay hadn't spoken to Mama Angeline or Papa Andre for twenty years. Their silence had burrowed inside him, a cold creature with sharp claws that squirmed its way behind his belly. Late at night, ravaged by hope, he would dream they were all back at the fishing camp tipping beers and swatting mosquitos, and the thing inside would twitch and gnaw.
Jay asked for a phone call, and the social worker said there'd be payphones at the bus station. Jay told him to give his radio and paperbacks to his celly, a Dominican who was in for installing secret compartments in dealers' rides, but the man didn't even look up from his papers while the guard escorted Jay out, straight to the gates.
The truck's door locks snapped shut.
A familiar paranoia cinched a ring around Jay's abdomen. He had been under the complete control of others for most of his life. He'd walked a tightrope between an alpha dog's bravado and a coyote's fine-tuned sense of danger, and his hackles rose as they trucked toward Newark Penn Station.
An unbroken stretch of strip malls, diners, and motels scrolled by. Working-class beaters jockeyed with sleek black sedans. Grimy white trucks and semi-trailers towing corrugated shipping containers herded toward the port. The sheer constant activity set him on edge. Prison was boring. The routine kept things sane, but also drove you mad. At least one riot during Jay's tenure, started because one wild young con had been bored out of his skull and wanted to see what would happen if he stirred things up.
Jay held loose but dead still. Staying wound up like a spring would kill you; Okie had taught him to float, like when he was in the ring. No need for footwork until the opponent made their move.
The two men didn't make a move, and they weren't much for talk, either. The truck got caught in the molasses of Jersey traffic once they reached Newark.
"I want to talk to Martins," Jay said. "He said he'd be here."
"He's in court," the driver said. "Saving some other psycho killer from doing his time."
Jay had worked on modern vehicles; he knew with the child-safe lock, the rear handles wouldn't work. He'd have to elbow Brush Cut in his cinder block of a face and then heave himself up front, claw the driver's eyes and go for the door handle. He played it over in his mind.
"Don't you worry," Driver said. "You're going home. Real home. Louisiana. An old friend's making sure of it."
Jay couldn't think of many friends. There was Tony, who owned an auto shop near their hometown. He'd suggested Jay take the mechanic certifications, and offered him a job if he ever got out. They hadn't spoken since the last court case. Once Jay's release became a possibility, Tony never seemed to answer the phone.
Cheetah, his celly from juvenile, was supposed to be running a club for the Italians in Newark somewhere according to the grapevine. He sent a package once a year around Christmas and a check to keep Jay's commissary account flush. He wasn't much for letters, and Jay didn't have his number.
And his family, they'd been gone since his conviction. Mama had written a few times. Sent pralines, Jay's favorite. When her letters dried up, Jay had been high on the former warden's enemies list, so he assumed they'd been confiscated. But when the new warden came in, no letters appeared, old or new, and the letters Jay sent continued to be returned. His folks had always been on the move, so that didn't mean anything. He hoped.
Inside, hope killed. Outside, it was all he had.
The truck bullied its way through a yellow arrow and double parked near the drop-off lane of the bus station. Cars honked in vain. The driver shifted into park.
"Thanks for the ride, fellas." Jay tugged the door handle. As he expected, the lock didn't disengage.
"Out the other side," Driver said. "You been inside since what, high school?" He jacked a thumb toward Brush Cut. "Lucky here, he gets to escort you all the way to the Big Sleazy."
Brush Cut grinned and popped the door on his side. Stuck one leg out. Made a little waving motion with his hand.
Later, Jay thought that was what set him off. The condescension of it. The same smug dismissal he'd seen in Joey Bello's eyes as he'd tortured Jay's friends. The look that said, you deserve this. You know it, too. You're the shit beneath my shoe, and you know it.
Ice cold indignation flared in his chest and misted his eyes red at the corners. The unquenchable rage that brought the axe down on Joey Bello now fired his fists without thought of consequence or damnation.
Jay mule kicked Brush Cut with his prison brogans, one lugged sole hitting his chest and the other cracking his face. His head bounced off the door and his broad chest thumped on the pavement.
Driver tore open his fanny pack to reveal a black pistol. Jay right hooked him three times in the nose. The seat rest blocked him from using his iron left cross, but he felt the man's neck weaken on the third blow, and his head lolled onto the steering wheel.
Jay grabbed his duffel and jumped out the back door, one foot landing on Brush Cut's solar plexus. The big man was fast. He'd already recovered and drawn his pistol. Jay heel stomped him in the liver until the pistol fell, then kicked it across the pavement. Other commuters squinted and stared, unsure of what they were seeing.
Jay opened the driver's door and unbuckled the dazed man's safety belt. Underhooked his right arm and heaved him on top of his vomiting partner. Dropped an elbow or three into his kidney to keep him down.
"If y'all mean the old 'friend' who left me flat," Jay said, "You tell him it's a little late in the game to start giving favors." He half-stepped into the truck and levered the column shifter into reverse. He hopped out with the vehicle in motion, then jogged between parked cars toward the taxi lane.
Car horns blared as the big truck rolled. Pedestrians scattered as the black Chevy crunched into a utility pole.
The green cab at the front of the line was a repainted police car on saggy springs. A thin black man with gold-framed glasses and a pencil mustache sat behind the wheel. Jay slipped in the back seat.
"Whoa," the cabbie said. "Hell was that?"
"Some jagoff drove the wrong way out the parking garage," Jay said. "Nearly hit me."
The cabbie leaned out the window to stare. "Crazy."
"Let's get moving," Jay said.
"Gotta tell me where we're going first."
"Nutley," Jay said. Home. First thing that came to mind. Old cons lamented how weak the human mind became in times of stress, sending you headlong toward familiar hiding spots that were always the first place the police were sure to look. But he knew no place else. He and his folks left Louisiana when he was seven years old. New Jersey might have attempted to imprison him for life, but it was home, at least for now.
The cabbie eased away from the taxi line and paused at the exit ramp.
Jay took a twenty from his bankroll and held it over the seat rest. "This thing burn rubber?"
The cabbie snorted. "Maybe if I set it on fire."
Jay wagged the banknote. "Give it a shot."
The driver snatched the bill. When he saw an opening he revved in neutral, then dropped the shifter into drive. The tires chirped as the cab lurched into traffic. Behind them, a small crowd gathered around the two downed men, one unconscious, the other dry heaving in the street.CHAPTER 2
Jay stuck his face out the window and breathed in the perfume of diesel soot, car exhaust, and fryer grease. Prison smelled of unwashed bodies and stuffed toilets. Disinfectant over mildewed walls.
No one else would think New Jersey smelled like heaven.
"Get your head in here," the cabbie said. "What you doing?"
Jay slumped into the worn seat and rubbed his knuckles, listened to the sweet V8 rumble of the Crown Vic's Ford 302. He hadn't thrown a punch in anger in years. It had come back all too easy. They disappeared into the crush of traffic. Jay looked back. No sirens, no police. He breathed his four fours, like the guy who ran the Zen class taught him to.
Four seconds in, four count hold, four seconds out. Four more before you breathed again. Four sets of those and the pounding of his heart settled.
"What's your name, brother?"
"Herschel," the cabbie said. "You?"
"Desmarteaux," Jay said. "I mean, Jay." Old habits die hard. At least he didn't give him his inmate number.
"Well stay inside the car, Jay. Truck mirror almost tore your head off."
Jay stretched his arms behind his head with a thin smile. "Thanks, Hersch. Needed a little thrill. Been away a quarter century."
"Where you been?"
Jay thought on it. He was a free man, at least for the moment. "Rahway."
"No shit?" Herschel tucked the twenty deep in his sock. "What the hell you do, a white boy going to jail that long?"
"Rather keep that behind me, if it's the same to you."
"You don't wanna say, that's fine with me. Man's got a right. You done your time."
Cee-Lo Green crooned on the fuzzy stereo as they headed up Route 21. A billboard with a tricolor harem of dancers advertised Cheetah's: A Club for Gentlemen. Jay made a note of the phone number before looking away, watching traffic. A woman with her hair tied back passed in a Mustang convertible. The perk of her nose and gleam of her hair made Jay ache deep inside.
"Mind if we make a side trip?"
"Depends," Hersch said. "You need to score, I don't truck with that. I'll drop you off wherever you want, but you get another ride out of there."
"Nothing like that. Wasn't in for drugs."
"Lemme guess, strip club? There's one just up the road. I'll wait, but you can't bust your nut in my car."
"Nope," Jay said. "Been so long, I figure I can go a while longer."
Punks inside dolled up and offered suck jobs for barter. Jay had politely demurred. A Latin queen named Rene had grown fine little breasts on smuggled estrogen treatments, and fixed up real nice. Rene liked to say it was all the same under the sheets in the dark, but Jay never found out.
"I've done some pickups from the county jail. Most of them want to find a girl or stop for a drink right away. A drink I can handle, but you get sick in my car, I'm driving straight to the police. Tired of cleaning filth out the back. So you feel queasy, you tell me so I can pull over."
Jay's last drink had been Irish whiskey, with the girl who'd saved him from doing time a virgin. Memories of her had been enough to fend off temptation from both the punks and the throat-clenching stink of jailhouse hooch, which was usually orange juice fermented in a toilet tank.
"I'm good," Jay said. "I'm thinking Rutt's Hut. You know it?" Herschel laughed in three short chops. "Twenty-five years in jail, man wants a hot dog. Only in Jersey."
"They better be as good as I remember," Jay said. "The food at Rahway tastes like wet toilet paper."
Herschel nosed the cab down a side street and hugged the Passaic River until he got past the traffic snarl, then popped back on the highway.
"Take the Nutley exit," Jay said.
"Next one's closer."
"I wanna see something."
Nutley had a new bridge and a lot more clutter, but the heart remained. Graffiti marked the overpass off the highway. Rust stains on the concrete like honey brown hair flowing down a woman's back. Houses with neat little yards huddled in a phalanx on the border.
As they cruised River Road, Jay frowned at the hole in the sky where the steel rocket of the International Avionics tower had once stood. The defense contractor's sprawling campus was gone, with townhouse condos posed in their place. Most people worked there, or across town at Roach Pharmaceuticals, makers of the tranquilizer made famous as "Mother's Little Helper" by the Stones. One side built tools for the Cold War, and the other cranked out the pills required to live in the shadow of the mushroom cloud.
Excerpted from Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck. Copyright © 2017 Thomas Pluck. Excerpted by permission of Down & Out Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsBad Boy Boogie,
About the Author,
Also by the Author,
Other Titles from Down & Out Books,
Preview from The Origins of Benjamin Hackett by Gerald M. O'Connor,
Preview from Leon's Legacy by Lono Waiwaiole,
Preview from Crossed Bones by S.W. Lauden,