In a previous post, I introduced you to Duncan Malone, who will quickly soar to the top of Decker’s to-do list in the upcoming Winter of the Drill.
Malone has set his sights on the Toybox, which is the strip club co-owned by Decker and his business partner, Rudy Valdez. And he’ll do whatever it takes to get it.
Jax Weston is Malone’s right-hand man, and oversees most of Malone’s dirty work. However, the ruthless things that Malone plans to do to force Rudy’s hand go far beyond his comfort level.
In this excerpt, Jax has taken a break in a quiet bar to think about things, and has a conversation that shakes him up quite a bit.
I hope you enjoy this look at Jax Weston.
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Jax Westen nodded to the bartender, gazing morosely at his empty glass until it was replaced with a full one. He wondered if the glass was clean, given the seediness of the establishment, but then decided that it really made no difference. He had stopped by Louie’s Pub & Grub because he needed to think about his current situation in a place where Malone could not find him, and he wanted to be less than sober while he did it.
A cockroach scurried busily across the bar not far from his hand, and he watched it with disgusted fascination. The bartender, a gray haired man with tattooed arms who had introduced himself as Tinker, followed his gaze, sweeping the roach onto the floor with a quick flick of his towel.
Tinker grinned, showing yellowed teeth beneath his untrimmed moustache. “I haven’t seen you in here before. We usually get the boys from the docks, and a few wayward truckers looking for action on the strip. You don’t fit either category so I guess you’re part of our third group.”
Jax looked up, curious in spite of himself. “What group is that?”
Tinker chuckled, his eyes reading Jax’s with the insight gained from thirty years of watching people come and go through assorted tavern doors.
“Trouble,” he said simply. “You’re trouble. But somehow…I think you’re mostly trouble for yourself. And no amount of booze is gonna change that.”
Jax stared back, his interest rapidly giving way to irritation. “You don’t know me.” His voice took on an unpleasant edge that Tinker did not seem to notice. “You don’t know anything about me. So what gives you the right to judge me?”
Tinker studied his face for a moment, then shook his head with jaded recognition. “I ain’t judgin’ you, boy. Hell, I was you, back in the day. I lived your life ’til I wised up and got the f out. So I don’t have to know you to know you.”
Jax picked up his glass and scowled at the liquid inside, disliking the man intensely. He had come for a few drinks, not a lecture, and he deeply resented the bartender’s intrusion into his personal space.
But the silence that followed Tinker’s last sentence soared quickly from uncomfortable to unpleasant, hovering there until Jax’s already frayed nerves could take it no more.
“Okay,” he snapped crossly. “You know me so well, tell me why I’m trouble.”
Tinker shrugged, his expression saying that he was only stating the obvious. “You’ve got a good build, and the scars on your hands tell me you didn’t put in the gym time just to get girls. But your face is clean. Your nose was never broken, and you’ve never had a cut deeper than a surface scratch. This tells me that you don’t fight anyone who’s in a position to fight back. So…you’re not a boxer, a cager, or any other kind of ring fighter. And you’re not a guy who fights just for fun ‘cuz if you were, you’d have the scars. That leaves hired muscle for one of the shitbirds that think they own the streets around here.”
He shrugged again, eyeing Jax appraisingly. “You’re dressed nice so whoever pays you has some green behind him. That leaves out Deaf Tony, Carl Dawes, Len Morgan, or the Mason twins. It also leaves out the popcorn pimps like Dark Daddy, King, and Ricky Roy. So…process of elimination tells me you answer to one of the big guns like Duncan Malone or Dane Kinney. Maybe even the Drill, though I’d be surprised if you did. He treats his people pretty damn good, but you look like you’re hatin’ life and everyone in it. It’s usually girl trouble what drives a man to drink, but I see somethin’ in you that goes way deeper than that.”
He paused to pull out a battered comb and make a quick pass through his thinning hair. “Boy, if you’re tied up with Kinney I’d say be careful and leave it at that. But if you’re one of Malone’s dogs then all I can say is watch your back and sleep with your eyes open. ‘Cuz life with Malone means you’ll always have to be choosin’ between what he tells you to do and what you’re willin’ to do. And no matter how you play it, sooner or later you’ll choose wrong and, then I’ll see your blood on the sidewalk right next to Milo VanDiepen’s.”
The mention of the notorious enforcer who had died in a hail of bullets, not far from the bar in which he sat, brought a frown to Jax’s face. A frown that did not go unnoticed by the man who had read him with such disturbing accuracy.
“You’re still young, boy,” Tinker continued. “Watch your step, and you might live to get old.” He paused, giving the bar an unnecessary swipe with his towel
“Don’t mind me,” he continued. “Sometimes I talk too much for m’own good. Seems whenever I see a younger version of me, I feel the need to impart a little sage wisdom. But I don’t mean nothin’ by it.”
A disarming grin followed the words, and then he stepped away, leaving Jax to ponder both the conversation and the truths that had been woven throughout.
Milo scwed up, he told himself reassuringly while he sipped his drink through the narrow black cocktail straw. He was way too cocky, and he turned his back on the wrong guy. That won’t be me. I won’t let it be me.
He jiggled the glass, watching the alcohol swirl around the ice cubes, and wondered how many more he would have to drink to dull the misery that threatened to take him down to some emotional hell from which there was no escape.
I could drink a gallon and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, he thought dismally as he swallowed the liquid and signaled for yet another refill. He’s right about Malone. I gotta get away before he changes me completely. Before he kills everything I am.
A long sigh slipped from between his lips when he recalled the things that he had done at Malone’s request. Things that even a year ago he would have considered beyond his willingness to do, no matter what the payoff.
He remembered the girl, trapped in the sinking car. Her death had been a tragedy, but it was the fact that it had been no accident that kept him awake at night. Malone had wanted to make a statement that could not be misunderstood, and he had achieved his goal, exactly as planned.
I was his weapon, Jax admitted with no small degree of shame. I let him load me like a gun and aim me right between her eyes. I killed her just as if I’d walked up and shot her.
His vision blurred, and he blinked rapidly, hoping that none of the burly men seated at the nearby tables could see the tears that lingered on his lashes.
No more crying, he told himself sternly. You just did your job. Doesn’t matter how it turned out.
But even as the thought formed, he knew it was wrong. That it did matter how things had turned out. A girl’s life had been taken in a soulless act, and that mattered very much.
Even his minor role in the shooting of Valdez’s bouncer had to matter, if he allowed himself to think about it with any degree of honesty. The boy had done nothing to deserve such a fate, aside from being a target whose injury would hit Valdez hard enough to hopefully force his hand. It had been a nasty piece of work, and even though Jax had been well paid for helping Rhegan find the boy, there was still a nagging voice in his head that told him what he had done was wrong.
It has to matter. The voice pounded into his mind with incessant force. At least a little. ‘Cuz maybe I’ve done some pretty stupid things for Malone, but I’m not like him. I never hurt anyone that didn’t have it coming, and I always said I never would.
He lifted his head to look for the bartender, but paused when he saw his own image in the mirror behind the bar. Haunted eyes stared back at him from over a twisted grimace of a mouth. Shocked, he whimpered softly, gripping his glass even tighter.
It was an ugly visage, beaded with sweat and devoid of color, and he averted his eyes rather than face the reality of what he was becoming.
I’m not him. At least, not yet. There’s still time to get away, if I really want to. But that’s the question, isn’t it? Do I really want to? Do I want it enough to give up the money and the power that being with him brings? And if I leave, chances are he’ll find me and rip out my lungs. What good is it to break away if I’m too fucking dead to enjoy it? There’s so many things to look at. I guess it all boils down to the million-dollar question. What matters the most?
The dim barroom light glinted on the heavy gold chain around his wrist when he lifted his glass to signal for a refill, and he studied it with resigned certainty. Because at that moment, loaded with alcohol and forcing himself to look honestly into his deepest heart, he knew exactly what the answer to that question would have to be.
* * *
Thank you so much for stopping by today. I will be back on Wednesday with another great recipe.
Shadow of the Drill
Born of Circumstance, Bred for Revenge.
A Perilous Thirst
A different kind of vampire story.
One Dyke Cozy
“HAVE A NICE DAY”
Twitter: @rhanidchae @rhanidchaaebooks