The Bad Boy Boogie
“This is a true story, but the names have been changed to protect the guilty.”
That’s how Bon Scott introduces a lesser known track off the AC/DC album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, “Ain’t No Fun Waiting ‘Round to be a Millionaire,” about the hard life on the road for a rock ‘n roll band. It’s the epigram for my novel Bad Boy Boogie because so much was drawn from real life and scrambled for my own purposes that I wanted to leave a little nod in there for people who grew up just outside Newark, New Jersey, my friends and family, who might recognize a little here and there.
Like the ax murder. Or what should have been an infamous hazing incident, that just got swept under the rug. Or the legend of how one town put an end to carjacking. Or the…
Well, you get the point. I was raised in the same town from whence Martha Stewart sprang like a decorating demon in a cloud of brimstone and potpourri. Just on the literal other side of the tracks, the side zoned “mixed industrial,” which meant any of you suckers who built houses here, well, get used to the Alcoa chemical plant, the truck repair shop, and the teens off Route 21 racing up your hill hoping to catch air. Don’t call the cops with their plates if they flatten your pet, wait until they kill one of your kids, then maybe we’ll send a car.
Springsteen grew up twenty years earlier, fifty miles south down the pike, but he would know the place. The jagged teeth of the Manhattan skyline bared, ready to take a bite of our best and brightest. That’s where Bad Boy Boogie comes from.
I was one of the kids who got in trouble. My friends, born outside Avondale, on the right side of the tracks, they were teacher’s pets. Or maybe I was just a smart-ass? I can’t deny that. But that early sense of injustice, of having to stay after class when they did the same thing and as I did, and got a pass, that stuck with me. And from it, Jay Desmarteaux was born.
If you study killers, there are psychopaths who know what they are. And they seek occupations and lifestyles that permit them to go about their business of killing people who they think need killing. On either side of the law. Snipers, for example. This is not to say the majority of that profession are psychopaths, far from it. Most humans suffer when they take a life. Others are invigorated. Such people often have few connections with others, but when they do, they are stronger than atomic bonds.
Jay Desmarteax is one of the latter. He spent twenty-five years in prison for killing a brutal rapist, and all he learned was how to get away with it. He wasn’t the only one in on the job, but he was the only one who did time. He was pressured into silence, to protect his friends and family. And once he is free, all bets are off: his family has disappeared, his friends have turned their backs on him, and someone wants him dead. Even when in prison for what he thought was life, Jay couldn’t kill indiscriminately. Not unless he wanted to live in solitary. He learned from the best, his convict mentor Okie Kincaid, and once outside he puts those skills to the test.
My father was a police officer, briefly. He was fired for theft. I have since met, known, and trained in the ring with members of law enforcement who showed me their deep integrity and honor. In this book, there are good police who hate bad cops, and there is one who takes “keeping the peace” as his truest duty, laws be damned. When I worked down the Newark docks and elsewhere, I knew members of organized crime. I can speak of one because he is gone. Little Sammy Corsaro: a killer, arsonist, and racketeer, according to the law. He was a polite man to me, there was no fronting to him. He was not tall but he had nothing to prove. No loud laughter, bombast, attitude. Quiet, well dressed, and deadly. But I knew knockaround guys as well, the kind who once held someone like Sammy’s coat, or laundered his cash through their limo business, and those are the guys who never shut the hell up. You’ll meet both kinds in the book.
There’s a shot of Cajun spice that runs through the book. I married a Louisiana girl, but I loved her state before I met her. Justin Wilson cooking on PBS, then James Lee Burke, then an all-night and all-day college road trip to New Orleans, and I was sold. There are commonalities between Jersey and Louisiana, though denizens of neither would ever admit it. Swamps, pollution, corruption, and people who know how to have a good time. Jay’s Cajun roots make him an outsider, and there’s no one better than an outsider to see the ugly truth of a place.
Like little Tommy, who never felt like he fit in, because his teachers expected him to go bad, like kids from his neighborhood were supposed to.
Bad Boy Boogie is available now from Down & Out Books wherever books are sold.