Monday, April 9, 2018

Precious Cargo - Review and First Chapter

Idgie Says:
This novel takes some time to build up to the heart of the story, but while it has this slow burn there is the witty banter between Jojo and Gator to keep you amused.  

When it heats up, it gets dark....really dark.   

When reading novels of this variety, you get used to the protagonists always managing to get out of ugly situations at the last minute, perhaps with some bruises, scrapes or an occasional gunshot wound.  Not in this book.

Jojo finds herself in a situation which is every woman's nightmare.  I don't want to give any spoilers so I will not provide details, but I was truly shocked that the main character endured what she did. 

The novel travels a path of fear, abuse and pain, followed by retribution and attempts to heal - mentally and physically.  It also delves into a real world situation that is much more rampant that you might think.  You will discover just how easy it is to make a woman disappear into the sex slave trade, and to make them not try to escape.

This is not a light-hearted read.  It does draw you into Jojo's emotional state, and you can feel her fear and anguish....but also her strength and strong will to survive and come out on top.The question is, will that strength manage to overcome her experiences in the end?

Down & Out Books
April 9, 2018


After helping a frightened girl who flagged down their Kenworth in Austin and delivering her to safety, trucker Jojo Boudreaux and co-driver Gator Natoli believe that’s the end of it. Until they find her again in Oklahoma City, and this time she doesn’t want to be saved.

They soon find themselves pulled into dangerous territory. Somali Mafia territory. A place where powerful people manipulate a hundred-billion-dollar industry of prostitution, drugs and international sex trafficking. A place where innocence dies at a cost no one should have to pay.

It’s not long before Jojo is drawn in deeper, fighting for her own life in this violent world of corruption, abuse, and addiction. Armed with her wits and will, the only way to survive is to trust others, accept help from unexpected places, and never, ever give up hope.


Chapter 1

Someone once told me, if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. As a long-haul trucker who spends three hundred and fifty days a year exploring the contiguous states of America, I’d say I was on permanent vacation.
Last month, I shared this wisdom with my co-driver and boyfriend, Gator Natoli.
He said, “It’s not the same, you’re still working.”
“But it doesn’t feel like work,” I said stretching and cracking my back. “That’s the beauty of it.”
“Wait,” he said. “Let me get this straight. You have to go where someone tells you to go, be there when they tell you to be there, wait for as long as they tell you to wait, submit their paperwork in their designated manner, deal with their rules and regulations, even telling you how many hours you can work, when and where to sleep and then, maybe then, you’ll get paid—after the government takes their share, of course—and that’s a vacation to you?”
Shit. “Well, when you put it that way…”
I flipped my long, brown hair over my shoulder and stared out the window. We’d stopped Sabrina, our custom Kenworth T-800, at a truck stop diner outside of Austin, en route to Los Angeles. I’d been craving hash browns, and not for the reasons some women crave things, I just liked potatoes. The crispier the better. Add cheese and I might kiss you.
The waitress had been sweet, one of those bless her heart sorts who talked about her grandkids so much I figured she was probably raising them, wondered if that was why she was still working at her age, and with that bum knee. I wanted to give her a much bigger tip, but Gator said it might insult her.
I was sitting at the kitchenette thinking about that, one’s pride verses a pair of orthotic shoes when Gator opened the rear door of the sleeper.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure. Why?”
“Looking a little spacey,” he said, bending down to kiss my cheek, whiskers tickling, hand cool on the nape of my neck. Before I got the wrong idea, he slid the fuel receipt across the table, patted me on the back, then headed to the driver’s seat.
Not that there wasn’t time for the wrong idea. I leaned forward to catch Gator’s face in the small mirror we’d installed on the dash. He smiled back at me and winked. Yep, there was always time for the wrong idea.
I blew my man a kiss, then waved him off and scooted down the bench seat to my portable office, where I scanned the receipt and added it to our books. As the truck began rolling, I opened the laptop to check out the day’s news from trucker pals and less reliable sources.
I’d barely updated my Facebook status when the truck pulled hard to the right, then lurched to an abrupt stop, knocking my bottle of water off the table and sending it rolling across the floor.
“Hey!” I yelled over the hissing brakes.
“Sorry. Some girl ran in front of the truck.”
I closed the laptop and went up front where Gator was telling a girl to get out of the way. We were hardly out of the truck stop lot, half on the shoulder, the road empty in both directions.
The girl waved her arms. “Wait! Please.”
Gator’s grip tightened on the wheel as she ran to the driver’s side.
“I need your help,” she called. “Please?”
Even if I hadn’t been able to hear her, the look on her face was enough. I tapped Gator’s arm. “Pull over.”
Gator maneuvered us off the road, set the brakes and gave me his best I hope you know what you’re doing look.
I motioned for the girl to come around to the back door of the sleeper, then rushed to unlock it. She barreled in, headed straight for the window over the sink and pulled aside the small curtain.
I could smell fear on her and something else. It reminded me of my grandmother’s cellar on rainy days.
She was pretty with dark shiny hair and almond eyes. Her face was heart-shaped, with perfectly proportioned childlike features, the kind of face a camera would love. Sporting a modern canvas messenger bag over her navy miniskirt and white top, she might have stepped off the pages of a teen magazine’s “Back to School” ad. The only thing that threw me was the cork platform wedgie sandals and purple-painted toenails.
“It’s my boyfriend,” she said. “My ex-boyfriend. He….”
She looked at me, then at Gator in the driver’s seat, then back again.
“It’s okay,” I said. “He’s okay.”
The girl nodded, like we had an unwritten agreement, something only people with estrogen understood.
“What happened?” I asked, looking at her closer. “Did he hit you?” I was ready to beat the shit out of a guy I’d never seen, ready to right centuries of wrongs.
She shook her head and turned from the window, apparently satisfied that the boyfriend hadn’t followed her. Her shoulders dropped an inch. “No. It’s not that, it’s…well, he wanted me to do something I didn’t want to do.”
I looked over the girl’s shoulder at Gator and mouthed, See?
“How can we help?” I asked. “Do you need to call someone or should we report—”
She grabbed my arm. “No. I mean, no thanks.” She met my eyes and drilled into me. I squirmed. She ran her fingers down my sleeve and leaned in, my conspirator. “Could you, maybe, have him drive me somewhere? It’s not far. I’d be…really grateful.”
Oh. She was good.
My eyes never left hers as I called, “Gator? Start driving.”
“Where to?” he asked.
The girl mouthed Thank you, then called out to Gator, “Just go straight until you hit Primrose.”
Gator reached back and drew the curtain between the cab and our living quarters, before he pulled the truck back onto the road.
“Have a seat,” I said, moving to the kitchenette, as the truck picked up speed.
She slid in, put her bag on the bench beside her, tucking it in close.
“Skipping school?” I said, tipping my chin toward her bag.
She shrugged, pulling a lock of hair over her shoulder and twirling it.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Candy,” she said, in the way you give the answer you’ve been supplied.
I’d seen enough shit in Bunkie and other small towns of Louisiana to know when someone was living deep in a lie. Question was, did this involve me? And, did I want it to? I looked toward the drawn curtain, thought about Gator, the handsome, gentle man I’d fallen in love with, and then was quickly reminded of Boone, the first man I’d driven with. The man I’d thought I’d be with forever. So, no. That was the short, clean answer. This was not my deal. We’d drop the girl off and that was that.
Candy stared at our flat screen TV, the decked-out kitchen, the polished wood floors. “This is nice,” she said. “Real nice. You fix it up yourself?”
“Not really,” I said. “It pretty much came like this.”
“Wow. Most trucks don’t even have—I mean, I thought most trucks just had cubbies and a small bunk.”
I smiled. “You’d be surprised what you can buy these days.”
She looked away. ‘“Yeah, I guess.”
Before I could ask her about the boyfriend or school or why she seemed so fucking sad—I mean seriously, she was young and beautiful with her whole life ahead of her—Gator pulled the drape and said, “Coming up on Primrose.”
Candy stood, slinging her bag across her chest. “Take a right and you can stop anywhere after the green space.” She bent to see out the windshield, confirming the location, then went to the back door where I’d let her in.
Gator hit the brakes and we glided to a shushing stop. I expected this was the first time a semi like ours had traveled these suburban streets.
Candy grabbed the doorknob. “Tell him he should be able to make the turn in half a block, it’s wide enough and pretty slow this time of day. Two miles and you’ll see signs to get back on the highway.”
“Okay,” I said, wondering why I suddenly felt like the student.
“Hey,” she called, stepping out onto the platform. “Thanks.”
And she was gone, jogging off to a gated neighborhood, The Estates of Something or Other. Her ponytail swinging shoulder to shoulder as her messenger bag—a bit too light for a serious schoolgirl—smacked her thigh.
“We good?” Gator asked, as I came up front, tucked the curtains back, letting in the light.
“Yeah,” I said, pausing to kiss his cheek. “We’re good.”

I went back to my laptop and tried to not think about Candy and her little life glitch that we’d been a part of. Because maybe that was all it was—a fight with a boyfriend, a moment that would be forgotten soon enough—written off as a bump in the road for a good student from a decent enough family, with a dad that played golf on the weekends and a mother who took banana bread to sick people. Just a glitch.
My father, Manny Boudreaux, taught me that people come into your life and you can choose to make it matter—for them or for you—but never both at the same time. In other words, somebody’s gonna be on the giving side and somebody’s gonna be on the taking side. I don’t know a soul in this world who would disagree with that statement, and if they do, they’re either big fucking liars or rich-ass preachers. Which may be the same thing.
I replied to a few emails, checked the weather for our route, then read for a while, catching up on other truck drivers via blog posts and comments on the trucking forums. Every so often I’d read something funny and repeat it for Gator. He was beginning to understand who was who—the rookie who used to be a rodeo cowboy, the lesbian couple with the truck cat, and the old timer who collected donations at every truck show so he could get dental implants—though I think his wife might be behind that movement.
The world of trucking is more than shifting gears and delivering loads. It’s about the people, the community. We’re the subculture that keeps the world going. Without truckers on the road, life would cease to exist as you know it in less than three weeks.
That’s some serious fucking power right there. You’d think we’d get paid better or at least get thanked daily by a total stranger. Yeah, not so much.
I logged off and went up front.
“How are you doing?” I asked, buckling into the passenger seat.
Gator lowered the radio. He’d recently begun listening to strange public radio stations that featured true stories and quirky scientific finds and other nerdy stuff. It was better than the country stations he used to tune in, so I wasn’t complaining—not out loud anyway.
“I’m good.”
We sat in awkward silence, neither one of us ready to break it. I closed my eyes and listened to the whirr of tires on pavement, the slight high-pitched whine from the engine, the solid rumble underneath like a tiger’s chuff. The custom seats supported my back and legs. There was no bounce or shudder like in regular truck seats. Instead it felt like two large hands were holding me, patting me, like a momma saying, there, there, child. And for a few seconds, I let myself be happy.
“What?” Gator said.
I opened my eyes and looked at him. “I didn’t say anything.”
“I know, but you looked…I don’t know.” He shook his head, glanced in the side mirror and changed lanes, preparing to exit and take us west.
I closed my eyes again, but the feeling was gone. And worse than that, I sensed Gator staring at me.
He cleared his throat, then said, “Would you have done what she did?”
I figured he was talking about Candy, but it wasn’t up to me to make conversation easy on him.
“Who?” I asked.
“That girl,” he said. “Would you have climbed inside a total stranger’s truck and asked them to help you?”
“Given the same circumstances?” I asked.
I shrugged. “Probably not. But then again, I know jujitsu, and I carry a knife.” I flicked my right wrist and produced a blade, scalpel thin, spun it twice, then stowed it away without a trace.
“Impressive,” Gator said, grinning. “Would it be crude of me to say that was a chub-worthy move?”
“Crude, perhaps,” I said, smiling and glancing at his crotch. “But I’ll take the compliment.”
I waited until we’d merged with traffic and settled into the slow lane, cruise control on, before I spoke again. “I did think it was weird that she and the boyfriend were even at the truck stop. I mean, there were other gas stations along that road and most of the food places were across the street. You know?”
Gator nodded. “I know.”
“So either the boyfriend is a driver—”
“Or, he works at the truck stop,” Gator added. “Don’t forget that.”
I ran my thumbnail over my bottom lip.
“Uh oh, look out. She’s thinking,” Gator said.
“Shut up.”
We could have gone on like that for hours. But my phone rang—an obscenely loud Zydeco version of Don’t Mess with my Toot Toot. I let it play long enough that we got to sing the refrain. It made Gator laugh every time.
“Hey, Père.”
Gator whispered, Toot Toot, as my father answered on his end of the phone, “Hey, Shâ.”
I’d missed his voice, the honey and whiskey purr, the way he could curl up a word on his tongue and unleash it like a chameleon after a fly.
There was a song in the mouth of every Cajun, and none knew how to sing it as well as Manny Boudreaux. I’d put him through a lot in the last year and a half. I owed him my life. Without his support I might never have recuperated from the crash—physically or mentally—even though I was a tough ass Boudreaux through and through.
I clicked on the speaker and set my phone in the cup holder, figuring this way I wouldn’t have to try to regurgitate the conversation to Gator later on.
I said, “How’s everything in Bunkie? Pilar treating you right?”
“You know she is. I got me a fine woman.”
“That you do,” Gator said.
I rolled my eyes and shook my head, surprised that my man still fell into that weird accent whenever he talked to my father.
What? he mouthed.
Toot Toot, I mouthed back.
Père told us he was concerned about heating all the rooms in the plantation house, now that winter had settled in and they had begun hosting hunters on overnights.
“Overnights? And that’s a good idea, why?” I asked.
“Men under the same roof are easier to gather up in the morning and get in the field. Men at night under the same roof are bound to buy more product, seeing their counterparts buying the same product.”
“Product?” Gator asked.
Père chuckled. “Pilar and me set up a small shop in the den. Simply some necessary items a hunter might have left at home.”
“Uh huh,” I said. “This product would not be bottles of Grand Père’s Rumdelicious, now would it?”
There was a pause on the other end. Père coughed. “I gotta go, Shâ, Pilar be calling me.”
Uh huh. “All right. Listen you go down to see Ivory Joe in town. He’ll know where you can get some safe electric space heaters that look like fireplaces. If he has any questions, tell him to call me. Hell, tell him to call me anyway. Been a coon’s age since I heard from him.”
He said he’d do that and we should have a nice day, then added a bit of Cajun lingo just to fuck with Gator.
I clicked off the call and hit the touchscreen to check emails.
Gator said, “Okay, so I know podna is for partner, but what did he mean by tahyo? And what was that other thing he said, a boog?”
I laughed. “He told me to take care of you, because you’re more like a little boy—a little bug—than a big, hungry dog.”
Gator stared at me long enough that the truck drifted over the lane line. “He did not,” he said, pulling on the wheel, getting us back on track.
“Okay. He didn’t,” I said, going back to my phone and the word game I was playing with a faceless man in Missouri. I counted to five.
Gator said, “I’ll show you a hungry dog. You just wait till we park this thing. I’m telling you.”
“Uh-huh,” I said. It was almost like we were married.