When mob enforcer Jake Caldwell first appeared to me, he stood in the ramshackle living room of a shithole apartment, the muscles in his forearms popping like cords as he white-knuckled a raised baseball bat that trembled with indecision. The chipped and scraped crimson paint on the thick barrel resembling blood splatters that burst against the aluminum. Would he do it? Would he bring it crashing down on knees of the cowering man at his feet? Those were his orders. He knew he could do it, it wouldn’t be the first time. But, it didn’t mean that he would.
Why a mob enforcer? That’s a frequent question I get when people ask me about the main character of my new book Poor Boy Road. How can a leg breaker for the mob be your good guy? It’s not that hard to make such a jump. Movies are filled with mob guys that we love to root for. Joe Pesci as Tommy Devito in Goodfellas, Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello in The Departed, or my favorite duo John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson as Vincent and Jules in Pulp Fiction. They are the bad guys who live, not the life you and I would want, but one we find fascinating.
I knew I had a story about meth and ghosts of the past set in the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri. The loose tendrils of it whirled and swirled as I drove to a tiny cemetery down a winding country blacktop named Poor Boy Road. After the service, as I drove back to my father’s house, those tendrils wove themselves into bone that formed a skeleton of the story. Later, as my dad and I drove down some of the more seedier backroads, muscle attached itself to the bone and that familiar excitement writers get when they know something is far more than just a fleeting idea crept into my body.
As we passed an abandoned house, boards hanging off a dilapidated porch, the glass panes of the windows hanging like broken teeth, another picture of Jake Caldwell appeared. He stood outside his childhood home with a gun hanging down at his side, anger seething at what was done to him inside those walls and the man he’d become as a result of it. A man living a life of violence, a man seeking redemption. An image perfectly captured by E.L. Wicker and Lakewater Press, the book’s cover.
So, I had my guy, I had my setting and I had my plot line. All I needed was something Jake was running from and something he was running to. That’s when I jumped back to the visualization of him in that run down house to the apartment with the bat in his hand. Orders from his boss to liberally apply blunt force to some schmuck who didn’t have the money he owed the mob, and his conscious telling him he was becoming the very person he swore he’d never be. Add in the tension of Jake knowing that the redemption he seeks lay in doing the very acts he is trying to escape in the hometown he swore he’d never return to. Sounds like one hell of a story.
So, does he swing the bat? Does he get his redemption? Well, dear reader, you’ll have to take the journey down Poor Boy Road to find out. I hope you find the trip worth taking.
Poor Boy Road
James L. Weaver
Publisher: Lakewater Press
Date of Publication: March 21, 2016
Number of pages: 251
Word Count: approx. 78,000
Cover Artist: E.L Wicker
As a mob enforcer, Jake Caldwell is in the dark business of breaking kneecaps and snapping bones. But each job sends him one step closer to turning into the man he swore he’d never become—his violent and abusive father. Leaving the mob is easier said than done. When his boss offers a bloody way out, Jake has no choice but to take it, even if it means confronting ghosts of old.
Arriving in his Lake of the Ozarks hometown, Jake has two things on his mind: kill ruthless drug lord Shane Langston and bury his dying father. What he doesn’t expect is to fall in love all over again and team up with his best friend Bear, the Sheriff of Benton County, to take Langston down. Racing through the countryside searching for Langston, the web of murder, meth and kidnapping widens, all pointing toward a past Jake can’t escape and a place he never wanted to return—Poor Boy Road.
“Jake,” Jason Keats said as if greeting an old friend. The room reeked of earthy-toned cigar smoke. Keats pulled his black-suited frame from a leather recliner. His skin was cold and clammy as they shook hands. His peppered hair slicked back with too much gel. “How’s things?”
“Been better. I need to bail for a few days. My old man’s dying and my sister needs me back home.”
“Sorry to hear it. You close with your dad?”
“Any particular reason?”
“He’s an asshole.” He handed Keats the envelope. “Two grand from Carlos.”
“He had it, eh?”
“Yeah, shocked me, too.”
Keats thumbed through the money in the envelope and raised it to his scarred nose, sniffing.
“Doesn’t smell like Carlos. Smells like you.”
Jake shrugged. “Smells like two Gs.”
Keats smacked Jake on the chest with the envelope. His inviting mood dissolved. “What am I gonna do with you, Caldwell?”
“In terms of what?”
“In terms of you not doing what I fucking tell you to do.”
“I got your money, Jason. Count it.”
“I know it’s there.” Keats tossed the envelope on the mahogany desktop. “I told you to break this guy’s kneecaps. You going to float every piece of shit I send you to collect on?”
“Isn’t breaking kneecaps kind of a stereotype?”
“Guy can’t work if he can’t walk.”
Keats sighed. “Are you trying to piss me off?”
“Look, his daughter’s in the hospital and he’s got a pile of bills that would choke a horse.”
“I’m not running a goddamn charity. Carlos didn’t use the money he borrowed for medical bills. He bet on a dog-shit horse and lost. Again. What’s really going on?”
“Nothing,” Jake said, slumping in the chair in front of Keats’ desk.
“Bullshit. How long you worked for me?”
“I don’t know. Five years?”
“Six if you count Oklahoma,” Keats said. “You were a dark soul who didn’t mind dishing it out.”
“I still dish it out.”
“Carlos is the third fuckin’ guy you’ve spotted this month. I got no use for someone who can’t follow simple orders.”
There was no reason for Jake to lie. “It’s getting hard to sleep at night,” he said, focusing on his bad knee, avoiding Keats’ stare.
“You want out?”
There it was, laid out for him.
About the Author:
James L Weaver is the author of the forthcoming Jake Caldwell thrillers Poor Boy Road and Ares Road from Lakewater Press. He makes his home in Olathe, Kansas with his wife of 18 years and two children. His previous publishing credits include a six part story called "The Nuts" and his 5-star rated debut novel Jack & Diane which is available on Amazon.com. Author note: a handful of the raters are actually not related to him.
His limited free time is spent writing into the wee hours of the morning, playing parental taxi cab to his kids' sporting endeavors, and binge watching Netflix.
You can read his blog at weaverwrites.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter @WildcatJim2112.