Showing posts with label Thomas Pluck. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thomas Pluck. Show all posts

Monday, February 4, 2019

Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck, reviewed by E.F. Sweetman

Bad Boy Boogie
Thomas Pluck
Down & Out Books
352 pages
Reviewed for TOUGH by E.F. Sweetman

If dark crime thrillers of persecution, personal justice, and payback are your thing, Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie has them all, and more in this wild story of an ex-con’s return to his small hometown. When Jay Desmarteax comes back to Nutley, New Jersey to restart his life after serving 25 years for killing ruthless high school bully, Joey Bello, he finds that his folks have disappeared, his old friends want him gone, and his enemies want him dead.

Nutley is a small town outside of Newark, and is also, in Jay’s words,“a place to grow up, rich or poor. Parks to roam, ponds and streams to fish in, a pizzeria in every neighborhood…but a little too proud, a little unfriendly to outsiders….”

It is a narrow-minded place with close-minded people; full of secrets, and layers of corruption simmering just beneath the calm and ordered surface. The cruel aspect of being an outsider carries a lifetime sentence from which you can never really recover. What is more unjust, his best friends who remained in Nutley, end up with the same small-town mentality. They see Jay as a reminder of a past they want to forget.

The town and its people did not want him when he was a kid, and is not happy to see him back from his stint in Rahway State prison. His taxi home is intercepted by the Chief of Police with this message. “You never belonged here. We’d like to go back to living like you never existed. You’re a stain we scrubbed out of the mattress.”

Although Jay knows he should drive south, start a new life, and pick up the trail of his adoptive parents, Mama Angeline and Papa Andre, the chief’s warning is anything but a deterrent. Jay has served his time, he is back, and he does not care what anyone thinks. “I just want to find my folks, but now I’m curious why everyone wants me gone so bad. Feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t know the punch line.”

In the true spirit of crime thrillers, when Jay Desmarteaux finds he is dealing with shady small-town politics, and a legal system that has become as corrupt as crime itself, he is unable to follow the advice of his old mentor, Okie Kinkaid: “the best revenge [is] living well”.

In returning to Nutley, Jay is rendered cynical by an unending cycle of violence and deceit. The rejection releases Jay’s tremendous grudge against the people and the town who left him to carry the entire blame for a crime he did not commit alone. Instead of retreat, Jay’s fight back begins with returning to his childhood home. Ultimately he is going to find his parents, but he wants answers first.

“Walking through his old house now inhabited by strangers felt like the impossible reality of a dream. The carpets replaced with polished hardwood, paneling torn out for bright pastel paint. Here and there the house he knew shined through...He padded upstairs to the master bedroom. (Papa) Andre had built a platform bed with a sunburst maple headboard, and the new owners either appreciated its massive beauty, or couldn’t be bothered dismantling it. Jay pressed the panel by the headboard. The wood eased in, then popped open to reveal a hideaway. Jay blinked at what lay inside the cubby. Two of the few things Jay had been forbidden to touch. The tomahawk Andre had taken home from Vietnam, and the combat knife with the finger grooves cut in the handle... Jay hefted the Lagana war hatchet’s worn hickory handle with reverence, his reflection warped in the hand-hammered blade, the edge scratched from field sharpening. A worm turned in his stomach, as if he could smell his parents’ fear. They had left everything…. He gripped its smooth wooden handle like he was squeezing Papa Andre’s hand.”

What Jay is really seeking is revenge. An antihero with a rough and jaded attitude, he has been used, terribly abused, abandoned, scapegoated, and cast aside. He was handed a life sentence for murder, and lost 25 years because his friends remained silent at his trial, all for “Joey Bello, a no-good rapist son of a bitch who needed killing.”

Pluck’s smooth writing style cuts to the bone, and he has created in Jay Desmarteaux a larger than life, a saw-toothed, scored-earth, sometimes humorous, sometimes lewd defender of street justice accountability. When a friend tries to talk him of taking revenge with reminding Jay that “you can’t fight those kind of people. It’s like banging your head against the wall. Only feels good when you stop.” Jay’s response is, ‘I got a pretty hard head’… and rapped his knuckles on his skull.”

Bad Boy Boogie deals with dark and disturbing matters, but it carries an equally satisfying amount of justice, because stories of revenge are fulfilling. The impulse to strike back against corruption and cruelty is wired deep-we can’t help but glorify an avenger who answers brutality with Jay’s level of ferocity, especially on issues of child abuse. His retribution is swift and thorough, and feels valid. Pluck’s tough-guy action is balanced with unexpected humor.

“‘They fixin’ to kill me Chrissie?’ The tremble in his eyes said enough. Jay threw his body into a liver punch, follow it by two more. Chris dry-heaved, face bent to the steering wheel. Jay stomped the accelerator and jerked the wheel toward the Benz. Oscar and Paul snapped their heads up as the truck veered their way. Paul waddled like Costello…Oscar did a funny little dance, stuck in place until the truck crumpled the Benz like tinfoil and punched it and him into the waves.”

Jay’s non-linear back story provides glimpses of his childhood that give disturbing insights into what has driven Jay to this high-octane level of retribution.“The taut clothesline ran from his swollen purple ankle to the leg of the sofa. The boy huddled under the sofa’s stained yellow arm. There he didn’t have to look at her. He dug at the knot with the carrot peeler. Crusted with blood. He had to get free before the Gator man came. Water dripped in the sink and tortured his dry throat. There was a warm glass of flat Coke on the other side of the sofa but he couldn’t reach. Not without crawling on top of the Witch.”

Bad Boy Boogie’s title is a tribute to the band AC/DC. “Back in Black”, “Problem Child”, “Live Wire”, “TNT”, and “Highway to Hell” title each section. In a guest post for Pulp Curry, Pluck wrote, “My favorite AC/DC songs work like noir tales.” And like the band’s lyrics, Bad Boy Boogie is on point; humorous, rowdy, loaded with working-class antagonism and pride. Pluck employs the same raw ideology in his story as AC/DC applies to their music.

This is not the last we will see of Jay Desmarteaux. Jay gets around. Pluck calls him “the walking Cajun shitstorm” who has appeared in several short stories, and will return in a follow-up novel where he will search rural Louisiana for his parents.

E.F. Sweetman is a writer living in Beverly, Massachusetts. Her stories have appeared in MicrochondriaFunDead's horror anthology, and Switchblade Magazine, as well as upcoming issues of Broadswords and Blasters, and Econo Clash Review. She reviews noir, crime and thriller novels for both TOUGH and SPINE. Follow her on Twitter @EFSweetman.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Third Jump of Frankie Buffalo, by Thomas Pluck

Frank drove the half-ton as fast as he dared up the rutted, snowy road. His breath plumed like a big shot’s cigar in the frozen air. So cold that they had shoved their booted feet into the campfires to keep toes from freezing solid and snapping off. Only thing colder than winter in Chosin was the fear deep in his gut. The two supply trucks sent before him hadn’t made it to the front. Artillery or ambush, no one knew. Frank held it in second gear and swerved around a bend. A moving target’s a hard target. A hard turn came up quick, one foot on the brake and one on the gas…

A horn blast broke Frank out of the reverie.

This wasn’t Korea. He was in a different truck, on a different run.


He didn’t wake up shivering anymore, but in a truck job, Chosin always came back to him.

He was stuck behind a stubby oil truck and a black new BMW at a railroad crossing. The traffic for the car wash and the flashing light ahead always made this a bottleneck, but it was the best way to get where he had to be. The tanker had stopped at the tracks, and the morning commuters were getting antsy.

Frank checked his Timex. Fifteen minutes, plenty of time to get the Mack cement mixer to Rifle Camp Road and hit the power pole. More than enough time to cut the fuel line and spill some diesel, shut down the intersection and keep Paterson’s finest occupied, waiting for the HazMat crew.


It was the guy in the black BMW, one car ahead.

“He’s gotta stop,” Frank said to himself. “Law requires it.”

It was his job to know. The CDL in his wallet wasn’t in his name, and his no-work job at the port rarely got him behind the wheel anymore, but he knew all the rules and could drive anything over 10,000 GVW like nobody’s business. It was a safe job. Just another driver heading to the quarry who made the turn too tight. If he got cited it wasn’t even in his name, but the memories of the Frozen Chosin tickled in his gut.

Young Frank had never made it to the front. He could’ve made that turn, nothing for a fearless driver who’d cut his teeth bootlegging for Longy Zwillman, the Jewish giant who ran Newark. The cold inside moved his hands for him. The belly-cold had jerked the steering wheel, made him dive out the door with his rifle. All Frank could do was watch the half-ton spill its load of ammo and survival K-rations as it tumbled down the jagged stone cliffside. He connected with a new unit and told himself the two drivers before him had probably done the same thing.

Honk honk. This time it was the lady in the minivan behind him. Striped uniform, probably a waitress at some diner.

The tanker didn’t need to wait this long. Just pause, really. The fading paint on the back of the stubby little tanker read Hansen Fuel Oil, the kind a small business uses to fill up home tanks. It rumbled forward, then stalled out. Right on the tracks.

Now Frank got antsy, too.

The boys would hit the Loomis armored car in twenty minutes. All pros, longshoremen in name only. They’d stolen the cement mixer off a job site that had lost funding and sat dormant for months. They laughed when he signed on for the job. Old Frankie Buffalo wants in? When he could be collecting his pension?

The pension wasn’t enough. The job was barely enough. The medical plan’s pure gold but Dottie’s cancer cost platinum and diamonds, gutted his stake after putting their three kids through college. Now his grandchildren were near college age, and his kids had married for love, not money. For money there was always Poppy Frank.

To show the boys he could still motor, he got in a little yard hustler and spun it in donuts around their fancy German cars, parking it with a controlled skid. They kept their mouths shut after that.

Still plenty of time. All he had to do was get past the tanker. He checked the mirrors. The minivan was right on his ass. He cut the wheel hard left and eased forward. If the BMW gave him an inch he could squeeze by. He tapped the horn.

The BMW driver gave him the Jersey salute.

A decade ago he would have taken the breaker bar from under the seat and shattered this cafone’s windshield. Maybe taken the little snubbie he used to keep under the dash and rapped the guy on the head.

But he wasn’t what he once was.

The merciless Chosin winter had made his feet dead as bricks if the temperature dropped below fifty, like this morning. He could put on some speed when he wanted, but it looked funny.

Frankie’s gonna shuffle off to Buffalo, the dock boss had said. And it stuck, like those names always do.

Two guys got out of the tanker. Olive skin, clean-shaven. First thing he thought was trouble, then chided himself, remembering his grandfather telling him how the country hated Italians before he was born, because some were anarchists. They even lynched eleven Italians in New Orleans, after a Black Hand hitter whacked the police chief. So he didn’t like to judge. Even though he was Italian, and a crook.

Frank honked again.

The Beemer driver pointed at the tanker with his Starbuck’s cup. “Hello? I can’t go anywhere.”

Frank inched forward. The BMW disappeared under his hood, but he knew these Mack Granites like he’d known his wife Dottie’s body.

“You scratch my paint, I’m gonna—”

The lights of the railroad crossing blinked red. Train coming.

The BMW driver swore, then the car jerked back and forth, making no headway. He had pulled too close to the tanker in front of him, and now he was paying for it. Other drivers piled out of their cars.

They were running.

The Frozen Chosin cold spread through Frank’s belly. Run, it said. That thing’s gonna go off like a five hundred pound bomb.

Across the tracks at the car wash, Latino women stopped drying cars and stared.

Frank set the air brakes and got ready to shuffle. He jerked the door handle. Sorry boys, you’re on your own. They’d probably get cornered and mowed down before they made it five blocks with the money. There was no getting away from a betrayal like that. Frank would just wait for the hitter to come plug him in the head while he was home alone in the recliner, watching Wheeler Dealers.

The cold made a fist in his gut.

Then he saw the drivers, even the BMW jerk, shouldering the rear of the tanker. Like they could move it! If it’s got a full tank, good luck with that.

Then the diner woman pitched in.

Frank jabbed the horn. “Lemme push him,” he hollered. They used these trucks like tugboats in the yard all the time.

“You can’t get around the cars,” one shouted back.

Frank put the Mack in low gear. The cement mixer was spinning on an empty barrel, just for show. With no load, he could push the tanker and the car in front of him, no problem.

Frank the hero, not Frankie Buffalo. The woman in the diner uniform smiled and waved him on. She had a smile that took over her face, like Dottie had.

He eased the pedal down and they moved out of his way.

The BMW driver grimaced as Frank crunched his bumper and mashed the front end into the oil truck. For a second they all gasped, then the brake pins popped and the strange little train of tanker, crushed Beemer, and cement mixer began to inch forward.

The striped railroad gates slammed down on top of the tanker. Just a few more feet…

One of the oil men reached inside the cab and came out with something small and black, like the grease guns Frankie had seen at Chosin. It sounded the same, as a burst tore through the work shirts and the gal’s diner uniform and the BMW guy’s fancy suit.

The train horn drowned out their screams.

Frank ducked and the windshield blew out. Rounds peppered the cab and pocked the seat. What the hell were they doing? Nobody robs trains anymore. This was a commuter train, the double-decker diesel to Secaucus Junction. No freight worth a hijack.

They weren’t stealing. They were killing. Like the anarchists that Frank’s grandfather had told him about. Like the psychos who’d brought the Towers down.

Chosin ice gripped his bowels. Held off by the warmth that the diner girl’s face put in his heart. He’d seen the Towers built floor by floor, and like everyone else at the port that day, had watched helplessly from across the water as they crumbled into cigarette ash.

Nowhere to run, Frankie. Gonna shuffle off to Buffalo?

His feet were numb, but he would die standing on them.

No rifle. Not even the old snubbie. Just a breaker bar, two and a half feet of rusted iron. Blunt as a screwdriver, but sharp enough. He’d seen fights with them on the docks. Ugly ones.

He mashed the pedal to the floor with his elbow. The Mack ground its gears and shuddered. Two more bursts rattled through the engine compartment. Frank curled into himself, the cold moving his body for him again.

Steam hissed from a cut hose with the sweet stink of coolant, but the Mack kept nudging the tanker forward. The Mack’s front end rocked as it rolled over the tracks. Halfway there.

Between the short, imperative blasts of the train horn came shouting, then the clank of a boot on the step by the driver side door. He gripped the breaker bar like a short spear, waiting for a head to pop up.

Four fingers gripped the door. Then the black barrel of the gun, wisping smoke.

Frank stabbed for the root of the middle finger and shouted words his nonno reserved for the anarchisti. Frank rose up for another thrust, but the gunner fell back onto the tracks, blood sprinkling from his hand like a pinhole leak in a garden hose. The train bore down on them skyscraper huge and swallowed the gunman, its brakes in full scream.

Frank jerked the door handle and tumbled out as the world spun and flickered like an old home movie.. The detached barrel of the cement mixer rolled toward the car wash. The rest of the Mack truck was dragged along by the train like a Tonka toy.

The brakes hissed as the train screeched to a crawl. Commuters gawped out the windows. The washers peeked from behind cars.

Frank curled up in the weeds clutching the breaker bar, like he had cradled his rifle in the Korean winter.

The tanker had rolled ahead and butted into a wooden utility pole. Still close enough to the train to destroy it. The other oil man had the door open, bent over something.

Frank used the breaker bar as a cane and shoved himself to one knee. The killer swore to himself and jabbed at a little box behind the truck seat. Frank clubbed him in the knee, then brought the iron bar down until he lost his breath and the car washers covered their faces.

Frank saw what was behind the seat and dropped the bloody crowbar. Wires ran from a lockbox chained to the seat frame, out the door to the oil tank, which surely held something more volatile than heating oil.

Their backup plan.

Frank pulled himself into the cab and turned the ignition. Backed away from the pole and swerved, tires hopping, using the tank’s heavy load as ballast for the turn. Like he was running with Longy Zwillman again.

He would make it to the quarry on Rifle Camp Road in time. He had to.

The boys hitting the Loomis truck would get more distraction than they would ever need.

And Frankie Buffalo would jump one last time.