The Boy from County Hell by Thomas Pluck: Cover Reveal and Excerpt
By Thomas PluckSeptember 30, 2021
Jay Desmarteaux raised a whole lot of hell in New Jersey after he was released from prison after 25 years for the murder of a rapist bully at his school. Now he’s on the run in his home state of Louisiana, where he traces his roots to an evil family tree that’s grown large and lush, watered with the blood of the innocent. Jay’s hunt for his parents will take him to the doors of stately plantation homes built by the enslaved, through the deadly and gorgeous heart of the bayou, to his greatest nightmare—a cell in the infamous state prison, where his only escape is the wildest show in the South—the Angola Prison Rodeo.
Scarred and shell-shocked, Jay Desmarteaux faces his deadliest adversaries yet: the demons within himself and the brutality wrought by his privileged ancestors. The Boy from County Hell is coming home…
They say never judge a book by its cover, but we always do. And I loved the cover for Bad Boy Boogie, my Anthony-nominated crime thriller. So for the sequel, I needed a killer cover that referenced the first one, but was colorful and original. And I got one that pleased me, done up in Mardi Gras colors. “Plum Crazy,” the same color as Jay’s beat-up old Challenger.
When I wrote Bad Boy Boogie, I wanted to write about a Cajun son transplanted to another swamp-infested, corrupt state, my home state of New Jersey. I grew up watching Justin Wilson cook on PBS, and later discovered the novels of James Lee Burke, took a road trip to New Orleans in my 5.0 liter Mustang, and enjoyed the Big Sleazy’s charms. I worked at the port of New Orleans for a time, and even married a Louisiana belle—who I met in New York City—but I never wrote stories actually set there, until Jay Desmarteaux decided to go home.
Louisiana is an interesting state. It was purchased, and had a long history before it became part of the United States. It’s the origin of the saying “sold me down the river,” because the slavers who ran the sugar plantations worked their enslaved charges to death. I learned that at the Whitney Plantation Museum, which as far as I know, is the only plantation museum that focuses on the enslaved who worked this land against their will. Every citizen of this country, and especially every student, should visit. It is a sobering monument.
Louisiana is also where outlaws Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed and gunned down, near the Arkansas border. I visited the monument to their slaughter and wrote about it for Criminal Element here. And it’s the only state whose prison holds a rodeo where the untrained inmates dodge Brahma bulls and ride broncos for the entertainment of the free citizenry, and work “The Farm” much like the plantations were long ago. In fact, it’s built on the site of such a plantation and gets its moniker, Angola, from the plantation’s name, which came from the origin of its enslaved populace. (I wrote about that for CE as well.)
That’s a lot to process, as they say.
And it’s where Jay Desmarteaux is from. In Louisiana, counties are called parishes. So technically, Jay is The Boy from Hell Parish, but the Pogues song played in my head continually as I began writing this book on a rainy Louisiana day. “Gumbo Weather,” as they call it. That was the original title. But as I delved into the history of the state, the Pogues title seemed a better fit. Jay learns his family’s trade, and to quote my tagline:
All Jay Desmarteaux wanted was to find his family. Now he has to kill them.
Unlike Bad Boy Boogie, which focused on Jay’s perspective, we meet a few new and old characters in this one. Including a bounty hunter on his tail, with the name of Chopper Tewliss.
I had a lot of fun writing this one, a rip-roaring yarn through our country’s darkest history, as Jay burns it all down. But the story begins earlier…
Some call it a prologue. I call it the…
June 11, 1985
When Evangeline pulled back the hammer on her Colt revolver, the blond armored truck guard stopped looking at her tits. He drew a breath as she dropped the swaddled baby, and his face fell as the doll warbled “Mama,” rolled to its back, and mocked him with its flat blue eyes.
Evangeline unsnapped his holster and winged his sidearm over the canebrake into the bayou. She put two fingers in her mouth and whistled.
Andre popped from behind the raised hood of their wood-paneled AMC wagon with his M16 and high-stepped toward the armored truck as if the narrow gravel road were a rice paddy.
The bank truck lurched around the station wagon. The driver chanced getting stuck in the ditch. The windshield snowflaked, and the report of an enormous rifle crackled across the water. The truck shuddered to a stop.
Blondie hit the dirt at Evie’s cowboy-booted feet.
Shooter Boudreaux was perched somewhere out in the bayou with his personally customized .50-cal, and had punched a hole clean through the truck’s armored glass and the passenger seat headrest. He might’ve been in the abandoned eagle’s nest, or on the rusted-out oil derrick further back. You never knew with Shooter. He earned his name.
The driver held up his hands, hunched beneath the dashboard for cover. Andre tapped the door with the M16’s muzzle. When the driver crept out, Andre directed him to fall prone next to his partner.
Evie wiggled a finger in her ear to stop the ringing, then bent to smack her hostage on the ass. “Boys, unbuckle your pants and get ’em down to your ankles.”
The driver obeyed, wriggling like a worm.
Blondie blushed. “Darlin’, I ain’t wearin’ nothing underneath.”
She tugged his Dickies down, the muzzle of her Colt by his ear. He did not lie.
“You like to live adventurous, don’t you?” She yanked his trousers down to his patent leather boots, then took his handcuffs and tossed them by his face. He knew what to do.
She backed up to cover him while Andre cuffed the driver. The rear gate of the station wagon creaked open and Pitou and Ti’ Boy crawled from beneath a blanket wearing matching guard uniforms, their long hair netted beneath badged caps, their faces shaved fresh and clean. Ti’ Boy’s shirt stretched over his massive frame. He rolled his pumpkin-sized head on his shoulders to get out a crick.
Pitou flipped a Randall hunting knife from his sleeve and snipped the guard’s belt loops. He buckled the thick leather belt over his pants, checking the radio, turning up the volume.
Ti’ Boy’s gun belt would never fit. He pitched the radio into the water and noosed the leather tight around both guards’ ankles. They yelped as the Cajun giant dragged them to the edge of the ditch like a stringer of catfish.
Andre stepped back, sharp-eyeing the road over his weapon’s iron sights. He about- faced and did the same up the road. He held up a fist and opened his palm. Shooter covered them from afar while Andre dropped the hood of the wagon, turned the engine, and pulled over so the truck could pass.
Pitou climbed into the driver’s side of the truck and held a slender brown thumb high. Ti’ Boy stepped on the running board and slapped hundred-mile-an-hour tape over the windshield damage. Pitou nosed the truck around the wagon while his giant partner squeezed in, pulling the door shut on the third try.
The armored truck held the cash receipts from the Angola Prison Rodeo, the Wildest Show in the South. The pride of Warden Burl Calvineau, who had announced his retirement after turning the most violent prison in the country into a profitable, self-sustaining enterprise.
Evie lowered the hammer on her Colt Diamondback and tucked it in the back of her Daisy Dukes.
“Please don’t make me go in the water, Miz Calvineau.” Blondie said, squinting up at her.
Her punch-drunk smile faded. “My name’s Desmarteaux now. You tell my daddy that, when he puts the screws to you.” She took two hundred-dollar bills from the tiny pocket of her shorts and tucked them into his boot. “One’s for your partner. Now get off the road. Don’t want some doodle-bugger running y’all over.”
“What if there’s snakes?”
Her smile returned. “I wouldn’t worry.” She nudged his tight butt with her boot. “Just whack it with your big ol’ thing.”
Andre had the wagon rolling before she had the door closed. She tossed the baby doll prop into the back seat. They followed the armored truck. Five miles ahead, Kung Fu Bill waited in a ten-wheeler with ramps to roll the armored truck in the back. Then it was forty miles to the Mississippi border, to an abandoned tire plant where they had welding equipment and explosives to crack the egg and see if the haul was all their inside man said it was.
“The scam worked better with the boy,” Andre said. Evie squeezed his hand and held it to her heart. They had promised not to talk about the boy until the job was done. They had to stay focused.
She put his hand on her thigh, and he gave it a quick double squeeze. “We’re going back for him.”
Their boy would be moved from juvie to the state pen in Rahway in six weeks. They had a friend inside to watch over him, and the cash from this job would finance a hit on the prison transport and bring their boy home. Evangeline’s heart jumped, caught in the dream.
They hadn’t planned to raise the boy outlaw. He chose that path on his own. Evangeline had decided never to bring a child into this world, but the boy had been a gift. Not from God, but the Devil herself. From whose claws they’d snatched the child and raised him as their own.
They had the will. They had the guns. And now they had the money. Their boy would live free. Andre’s platoon leader had a good gig across the border, down with the volcanos and pyramids in the jungle, and had invited them to join him.
They’d be a family again.
The seat rest beside Andre’s neck exploded, the windshield spider-webbed, and Evangeline’s world went red. Andre shoved her under the dash and cut the wheel hard as a second shot punched through the radio. The wagon crashed through the canebrake and the engine sputtered dead as it sucked water.
Evangeline howled in pain. She tried to wipe the blood from her eye and gashed her finger.
Andre rolled out the door with his rifle, his shirt red and smoking between shoulder and neck. He fired short bursts and sidestepped through the cane. “Get out, Evie! He’s firing tracers!”
Rounds thunked into the wagon’s sheet metal. Evie hit the water and heat roasted her back as the gas tank went up. She swam under and went for the far side. When jobs went to hell, you meet up later.
The boom of Shooter’s .50 and the tinny cracks of Andre’s M16 still traded fire when her head cleared the surface. Evangeline spat water spiked with oil and salt and pulled herself behind a cypress knee.
Sirens whooped in the distance.
Across the water, two cruisers came down the road from opposite directions. A tall sheriff exited one cruiser and his deputies cuffed Andre and shoved him into the back. The parish sheriff was Kane LeFer, a Calvineau family flunky sent to bring her home.
Shooter shinnied down a tree with his rifle slung across his back.
Evangeline gritted her teeth and pulled a shard of glass from her ruined eye. Her scream howled over the bayou.
Sheriff LeFer jabbed a finger toward her hiding spot, and his deputies ran for their cruiser.
She tied a bandanna over her eye and jogged toward a camp road. It would take the pigs twenty minutes to race their way to this side of the feeder canal.
A wizened Cajun in a bent-frame Chevy stopped for her thumb. She stuck her gun in his crotch, huddled beneath the dash, and made him drop her at the first honky tonk they found. There she wired another truck and drove to the tire plant after dark.
The hideout was empty and showed no signs of her crew.
Her betrayers were elsewhere, divvying up the take while her man rotted in Sheriff LeFer’s parish jail. Surely dangled like bait to bring her back to her evil family.
She uncapped a hip flask she found in the glove box of the stolen truck, took a slug, then poured the raw moonshine into the wreck of her eye. Her screams echoed off the walls of the abandoned factory and sent pigeons flapping from the rafters.
Evangeline Calvineau spun the open cylinder of her Colt as hate blew out her heart like an offshore rig unleashing hellfire, and she swore revenge on the men who jailed her man and stole her blue-eyed boy’s last chance at freedom.
Six brass irises stared back at her one steely eye.
One bullet for each son of a bitch who needed killing.
Copyright © 2021 by Thomas Pluck. All rights reserved.