Excerpt from the Jake Caldwell Series Book One: Poor Boy Road by James L. Weaver…
The stairs to Keats’ office creaked under Jake’s reluctant footsteps. He hated meeting with his boss. During his last visit, he had tried not to squirm as Keats turned a guy’s knuckles to powder with a nutcracker. Jake could still hear the man screaming, like his cries were embedded in the wood-paneled walls.
“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?”
“No,” Jake said.
“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?” Keats asked.
There it was, laid out for him. Leaving the life had dominated his thoughts for the last few months. But it would be a tricky extraction, maybe fatal. “No. Maybe. Hell, I don’t know.”
Keats eyeballed him. “See, you know a lot about what I do. Guys with less knowledge than you have disappeared.”
“I’m no rat. You know that.”
“An enforcer with a conscious isn’t worth shit to me. You want out?” Keats asked again.
Jake twirled the ring on his finger. Echoes of screams. Bones snapping. “Yeah, I want out. This is turning me into someone I swore I’d never become.”