Wow, the release of Ares Road by James L. Weaver is approaching fast, and we are super excited and busy with preparations. The incredible XPresso Blog Tours are arranging a book release blitz (please click to sign up!) and we are also seeking help with an extended blog tour. Please do email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can assist!
Today, we’d like to share with you chapter one of this fantastic, explosive sequel to the award-shortlisted Poor Boy Road. Be sure to pre-order Ares Road now and grab a copy of Poor Boy Road while you’re there!
A shriek erupted from the dead man’s cell phone, so jarring that Jake Caldwell almost dropped it in the blood pooling at his feet. A young girl, maybe a teenager—though the terror in her scream made it difficult to tell. A second later, a man’s muffled shout, a crash of something thick and heavy, and silence as the connection terminated.
Jake memorized the number from the cracked phone screen. Area code 913—Kansas side of the city. He tucked his Glock into his waistband holster, wiped the phone and put it back in the jacket pocket of the dead guy. The man appeared in his mid-thirties, dressed in a no-name blue suit, clean shaven, with a potato nose broken more than once. Bookending the blood-weeping black hole in his forehead, the man’s glassy eyes fixed on the open window behind Jake. A professional. To confirm, Jake lifted the jacket and revealed an empty shoulder holster. Whoever killed him probably took his gun. In the guy’s jacket pocket, Jake fished out a plain, ivory keycard and slid it into the back pocket of his jeans.
Jake avoided glopping his size 13s in the crimson mess as he stepped over the body to the barren condo’s window. The owners were going to have a hell of a time selling the place now. Large bloodstains on the floor tended to ward off potential buyers. He knocked the jagged glass clear and stuck out his head, his close-cropped hair brushing the wood frame. The rusty fire escape hugging the side of the building stood bare, the drop ladder deployed to the narrow, trash-filled alley. The ladder to the floor above was fully raised. His quarry either pulled it after climbing up or, more likely, dropped into the alley. In either case, there was no sign of Alexander Voleski or the silver briefcase. Shit.
His man got away. A frantic scream from a girl he didn’t know. A mystery guy he didn’t kill. Sirens approaching from a distance. It was a Monday.
Jake loped down three flights and exited the building on Kansas City’s south side, an old, red-bricked canning factory someone renovated into mid-priced condos. Far from the city’s “top-of-the-line,” but better than his place. Then again, a lot of places were better than his place. Kansas City police cars roared up Broadway from the south, so Jake turned north. He kept a casual pace, a slight limp from his bad knee. The early afternoon sun glared overhead in a cloudless blue sky, but Jake flipped the collar of his jacket high to block the brisk March breeze blowing at his back.
He strolled north a block, working his way back to the crime scene from the opposite end. His employer, Jack Logan, drew up to the curb in a decade-old, black Explorer with peeling paint and the odor of cigarettes and fast food imbedded in the cracked upholstery.
He met Logan three years ago when they crossed paths in a dark and seedy bar. They’d stood on either side of a low-life they both were hired to find. Jake wanted the guy to pay a gambling debt he owed to his mob boss, and Logan needed him to pay child support to a tenacious ex-wife. They were both screwed because the guy couldn’t even pay for the beer in front of him. Since their first casual meeting, they’d bonded the last several months over a couple of movies and steak dinners at Logan’s house. Logan was Jake’s only friend in Kansas City.
“I take it things didn’t go well?” Logan ticked his graying head toward the police cars. His dark sunglasses blended into three days-worth of five o’clock shadow on his leathery cheeks. The weathered lines etched in his face made him look older than fifty. Hard living and excessive drinking tended to do that. He steered from the curb and sped away from the condo.
“Not really, no,” Jake said. “You see Voleski bust ass out of the alley with the briefcase?”
“No, I was watching the back door.”
“He went out the fire escape on the side. We should have had another guy on this.”
Logan coughed and spat something thick out the window. “I can’t afford another guy.”
“You can’t afford me,” Jake said.
“If I don’t get this guy, we’re up shit creek without a paddle. What the hell happened?”
Jake inched down in the cracked leather seat. “I was at the door, about to bust in when a couple gunshots rang out. Pulled back and heard the window break. Kicked in the door and found a dead guy on the floor.”
Logan jerked his head toward Jake. “Dead guy? Who was he?”
“Don’t know. Didn’t have any ID. Mid-thirties, blond crew cut in a mid-range blue suit. Shot twice—one to the chest, one to the head. Very efficient. Looked out the window and didn’t see Voleski, but the fire escape ladder was lowered. He must have beat it down the alley.”
Logan slumped. “Shit.”
“Exactly. Then, the dead guy’s cell phone rings, and I fish it out of his pocket.”
Logan’s bushy eyebrows shot up. “You answered it? What for?”
“Thought I could figure out who he was. Some girl starts screaming, crap starts breaking and the line goes dead.”
“Who was the girl? What did she sound like?”
Jake pushed a long breath out, tired of the questions. “I don’t know, man. Like a screaming random girl who was scared to death. You want me to imitate it for you?”
“Hell, no.” Logan took off his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes. He reached to the console and shook a couple of Advil from a bottle.
“Hungover,” Logan said, dry-swallowing the pills. “Head feels like I got whacked with a bag of brass door knobs.”
“Let’s tour the streets and see if we can spot him.”
Logan wheeled the car through the one-way streets of Kansas City’s downtown. They cruised around the light traffic, peering in alleys. They stopped at several locales in town and talked to informants, dropping Voleski’s name and description. Several knew who Voleski was, but none had seen him. Logan left their phone numbers and greased palms with a ten-spot and promises of more if they saw the man. Jake and Logan ended their search at the condo building where they lost Voleski. The cops were still parked outside.
Jake shifted his six-foot three-inch frame in the seat, bone tired from the day’s manhunt. “I need coffee.”
“You and me both,” Logan said, turning left on Broadway. They cruised in silence toward the Plaza and found a Starbucks. Logan was addicted to frappuccinos even though he couldn’t afford them. They sat in the parking lot sipping their overpriced drinks. “You still have the cell?”
“No, wiped it and left it in case someone wanted to track it. Got the number the girl called from, though. Kansas number. Maybe use it to figure out who that guy was.”
“No telling. Lot of people looking for Voleski besides us.”
“Still wonder what’s in the briefcase that’s so fucking important.”
Logan started the Explorer and shifted into drive. “We’re getting paid to get the case, not worry about what’s inside.”
Logan headed north toward the heart of downtown. Jake drummed his fingers on the armrest.
“What are you thinking?” Logan asked.
“That being a private investigator doesn’t seem much different than when I worked for the mob. It’s still finding dead guys and chasing after dirtballs.”
“And it pays a hell of a lot less. So you got that goin’ for you. You’ve only been at it for a few months. Give it a decade and you’ll really hate it.”
“If you hate it so much, do something else,” Jake said. “What happened to your Senior PGA tour dream?”
“Can’t afford to play golf. My ex-wife took my clubs in the divorce settlement. Bitch doesn’t even play.”
“You could be a security consultant or something with your experience.”
“Yeah, right,” Logan said. “Look at me. I drink too much, I hate to shave and I can’t iron to save my soul. Would you hire me? Besides, I’m too fuckin’ old to start a new business.”
“People love ex-cops in the security business.”
Logan huffed. “Hell, all they have to do is fire up the Internet and read the bullshit. After that, they wouldn’t hire me to cut their grass.”
“Give me a break. Like anyone would believe you were a dirty, drug-running cop.”
Logan lit a cigarette and blew a plume of white out the cracked window. “Some people did.”
Jake’s eyes narrowed. “What people?”
Logan was silent for a beat, white-knuckling the steering wheel. “The ones who matter. You want to come over tonight and grill some steaks?”
“Are they going to be as bad as the ones you cooked a couple weeks ago?”
Logan slapped Jake on the arm. “Cut me some slack. My grill was new.”
“Well, the meat certainly wasn’t.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” Logan said.
“I’ll think about it.”
They stopped at a few more locales Logan had contacts with, but nobody had seen anyone matching Voleski’s description. Jake already knew the guys at two of the stops, but not the third one. A tiny-framed Hispanic with bulging eyes too big for his head.
“He was a new one,” Jake said as they got back in Logan’s truck.
“Cisco. He always smells like a week-old burrito, but his info is usually pretty good. You remembered the other two?”
Jake nodded. “Frankie and Quince. I actually knew Quince from before. Picked up a grand that he owed Keats a couple of years ago.”
“You’re getting the hang of it. This job is all about patience and information. Voleski will pop back up on the radar eventually. It’s gonna work out.”
“It better. I made promises.”
Logan chuckled. “Promises get broken. For example, you promised to pay me a couple of years ago if I found Julio Ramirez for you.”
Jake craned his head. “He was whupping you six ways from Sunday in a dark alley. Technically, I both found him and saved your ass.”
“I was just getting my second wind.”
“That would have been interesting since he knocked the first one outta you. I gotta come through on this one. There’s too much for me to lose.”
Jake fell silent as the traffic flashed by, every bit as fast as the last six months of his life, the last four cementing his ties to Logan. He didn’t talk to Logan much about his days working as an enforcer for the Kansas City mob, and Logan knew Jake well enough not to ask for the gory details. The head of the mob, Jason Keats, agreed to let Jake out for taking down a rival drug lord six months earlier, but also let it be known the price included keeping his mouth shut. Keats gave Jake a decent windfall for the task, but the fund was dwindling.
“So what promises did you make?” Logan asked.
Since getting away from breaking bones for the mob, Jake slept better. But, in the wee small hours of the morning, the nightmares still paid the occasional visit. Despite burying his abusive father, Stony, six months earlier, the old man still lurked in his dreams, still swinging the pipe that shattered Jake’s knee. Sometimes Stony was accompanied by Jake’s older brother Nicky who overdosed on heroin years ago, sometimes by the countless faces of those Jake hurt over the years. The nightmares were becoming fewer and fewer, but they still came.
“To do something that will let me sleep at night.”
Logan nodded, weariness etched in the lines on his face. Not tired like he needed a nap. Tired like he was worn to the bone by life. His heavier than normal drinking of late wasn’t helping things either. “I’d like to make enough so I don’t have to steal my dog’s food so I can eat.”
“Canned or dry food?”
Logan grinned. “Canned. Damned kibbles hurt my teeth.”
“Well, we gotta find the briefcase now. You’re too young to have dentures.”
“Couldn’t afford them anyway,” Logan said.
“You know what’s in the briefcase?”
“Not a clue. I was hired to track down Voleski and get the briefcase. End of story.”
“Hired by who?”
Logan regarded him, his bloodshot eyes little more than slits. “You really want to get into the PI business? Then learn rule number one, kid. Don’t ask too many fucking questions. The less you know on this one, the better.”