Jackson Hurst lives his nightmares with his eyes open. Only the heroin he’s been addicted to since Vietnam keeps the horror at bay. A poster child for losers, Jackson’s addiction has cost him his job, his girlfriend—and unless there’s a change soon—his life. That change comes in the form of the wicked Aunt Camille, a Vermont millionaire who desperately needs Jackson’s services to retrieve her twenty-year-old daughter, Cheryl, from kidnappers. Camille wants her back at any cost and she wants the kidnappers, who maimed her only daughter, murdered. Jackson could use the money—no, he desperately needs the money—but can he stay clean long enough to get her back? And more importantly, can he kill again despite the demons that haunt him from the war?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Deviant Acts by JJ White, Jackson Hurst is a troubled, drug-addicted vet of the Viet Nam War, who can’t seem to hold a job, or even stay out of jail, for very long. With few other options, he is forced to accept a job offer from his rich aunt in Vermont. She wants him to rescue her daughter who has been kidnapped by a radical militia group. She promises that, if he is successful, she will set him up in business as a private investigator on her dime. But Jackson turns the mission on its ear when he uncovers some deep, dark secrets his aunt desperately wants to keep hidden. Secretly in love with his cousin, Jackson is, nevertheless, determined to save her at any cost. But the rescue doesn’t go quite the way he planned.
White has crafted another exciting page turner. His characters are well developed, flawed, and incredibly human, the plot strong and complex—a really great read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Deviant Acts by J. J. White is as complex and complicate a mystery/suspense as it is an expose on the problems most of our combat vets experience in trying to meld back into society after the horrors of war. Our hero—if you can call him that—is Jackson Hurst, a heroin-addicted, violent, psychologically disturbed Viet Nam veteran. As the story begins, Jackson is shooting up in the projector room of the local theater in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1973 as Steelyard Blues with Jane Fonda plays on the screen. Getting high instead of doing his job and then physically attacking a fellow coworker who comes to complain, it’s no wonder that Jackson is fired and ends up in jail for assault. His beleaguered mother is unable to bail him out this time—Jackson has pretty much tapped her out—Jackson has little choice but to accept a job offer from his despicable rich aunt in Vermont. She pays his damages for the assault, etc., and Jackson heads for Vermont in the middle of winter, only to discover that what waits for him there is not only worse than what he left behind, it could very possible get him killed.
Like White’s previous book, Prodigious Savant, Deviant Acts is a fast-paced, tension filled thriller that will hook you from the very first page and keep you enthralled until the very last.
Charlotte, North Carolina, 1973:
Jane Fonda shot ten feet up the screen and then ten feet down.
It pissed him off that she was selling out to the Man after risking her career sitting on an NVA antiaircraft gun. When the photo had come out, it was a big middle finger to the establishment, but now she was back making shitty movies for money, ignoring the cause.
Jackson Hurst hadn’t always felt this way. In ’68, he had supported the war so strongly he enlisted in the Corps. He believed all that stuff they beat into him in boot camp, until his tour changed his mind. Funny how a year of fighting jungle rot and fending off inconsiderate bastards trying to kill you changes your attitude.
Hoots, hollers, and whistles floated up from the smoky theater. Jackson kicked the projector until the steady click-click-click began again, Jane’s mouth and voice back in sync.
He leaned forward in the chair, set the lighter between his legs, and cooked the last of the smack. He still called it “smack.” The platoon sergeant who had introduced it to him in Da Nang called it that, so Jackson would call it “smack” to honor his dead sergeant.
Every bone in his body ached. Sixteen hours since his last hit and it felt like a goddamn truck sitting on his chest. He used to go three days between hits. Why couldn’t he do that anymore?
More hoots from the seats. Jackson ignored them, wiped the hypodermic needle on his jeans, then dipped it into the hot spoon of liquid god. As he was sucking it up into the hypo, a pounding behind him drowned out the whistles and shouts from below.
“Open the door, Hurst.”
“What?” Jackson flicked the vein in the crook of his arm. It filled with blood and then popped up as if anticipating the needle.
“The film’s stuck. Open the goddamn door.”
Jackson looked out through the smoky glass window at Donald Sutherland’s thin face, cooked brown by the high-wattage lamp. It reminded him of the marshmallows he and his father used to roast at a campsite near Icy Knob Hill, back when he still had a father. He flicked the switch off and the lamp went out. Boos filled the grand movie theater. Surprising, considering there were maybe thirty people there, tops.
“I got it!” he yelled to Maxwell, the whiny son of a bitch.
“I got it! You know, Max, who gives a shit about Steelyard Blues? I got it. Go away.”
Jackson pulled the burnt celluloid loose and fed the film back into the projector. Christ, he was dying, sweat covering his forehead, the pounding in his head worsening. He had to hurry before the smack cooled or he’d have to cook it all over again.
He flicked the switch and then, thank Christ, the movie started, slowly at first, and then up to full speed. Max finally went away.
Jackson sat in the chair and lined up the needle. He’d have to do a direct deposit, shoot it right into the vein instead of the usual skin-popping. The hippies and dicks downtown liked to skin-pop to save the vein, but it left you with abrasions that looked like the acne he had hated so much in high school. A direct deposit would hit his brain in seconds.
He pushed the plunger and felt an almost instant euphoria. When he did this, he was never sure if it was the heroin or his anticipation of the high that gave him the quick rush. He stood and leaned against the wall until his legs gave out, and then he slid to the floor. A cigarette would have been nice, but he didn’t have the inclination or the motivation. His body was at peace, without pain, highly sensitive, though without much tactile pleasure, if that made any sense.
He could never explain how it felt to Karen as she asked for the millionth time why he wanted to kill himself. It just felt so damn good. After work, he’d stop by her place and try to explain it to her again, but even in his haze, he realized that wouldn’t be possible, since they had broken up over six months ago. Still, he might ride by to see if he could get a glimpse of her through a window.
Jane once again filled the screen, emoting to Donald Sutherland. She was supposed to be a prostitute in the piece-of-crap movie, trying to reprise her role from Klute, he guessed. The flowery blouse, leopard pants, and frizzy perm made her look more like his mother than a whore.
He’d had enough. Jackson threw a metal trashcan at the projector. It bounced off and the film continued unabated. He flung the trashcan again and the film froze, this time as small pieces of the projector fell to the carpeted floor. Still sitting, he bowed to his imaginary audience and said, “It would be her last movie. A shadow of what she once was, my fellow Americans.”
Max pounded on the projector-room door for half a minute, or maybe it was an hour. Who the fuck knew? The sound of fumbling keys, and then Max and Vincent Holmes, the Flynn’s big, black facilities engineer or technician or whatever, came striding in like John Wayne and the cavalry.
Vincent picked up scattered pieces of the projector. “Broke. He broke it. Goddamn junkie did it this time.” He booted Jackson in his outstretched leg to emphasize exactly which junkie he was talking about.
“Hey, man,” Jackson said. “Ease off, brother.”
“I’ll ease off your hippie-loving ass, boy.” Vincent tried the power switch. Nothing.
Max waddled over to confront the perpetrator. Jackson pulled his long blond hair back out of his eyes and met the kid’s gaze.
“That’s it, Hurst. You’re fired. Do you know what the projector cost? I don’t care if your mama knows George or if she’s sleeping with him, but that’s it. Get your ass out of here.”
Jackson shook the bats from his brain. “You gotta pay me what you owe me, Maxwell.”
“Fuck you. You owe me for the projector. I said, get out.” He kicked Jackson’s leg. It didn’t hurt like Vincent’s kick had.
“Dude. Little respect for your elder here. I’m an armed services veteran, man.”
Max gestured to Vincent. “Throw him out.”
“Don’t touch me,” Jackson warned Vincent. “I’ll get up in a minute. Just let me rest for a second.”
Vincent grabbed Jackson by his shirt and jacked him up against the wall. Jackson hadn’t been man-handled like that since his birthday, five years ago in Vietnam. He could still smell the jungle…
The platoon had been in an earlier firefight and they were exhausted, including Jackson, who had watch. The men lay in a circle around the fire, somehow managing to sleep amidst the cacophony of nighttime jungle noises. Jackson was reading the second page of Karen’s letter when the monkeys and birds and whatever else was out there went quiet. He stood and scanned three-sixty with his M16, the attached Starlight NVD scope painting the jungle green. His heart raced, despite his having smoked some smack earlier–good stuff that kept a middle-class boy’s head level after seeing your buddy’s brains on your shirtsleeve.
Nothing. Jackson turned in a circle one more time and, as he aimed the rifle over heavy scrub nearby, he saw green eyes staring back. He emptied the clip on auto and then ducked as the other twenty-six men woke and stood as one, also emptying their clips into the black void. Nothing should have lived through the fusillade, but two VC rushed into the circle of Marines, bent on suicide and taking as many of the enemy with them as they could.
One of the VC screamed as he fired twice into Jackson’s sergeant. Jackson butted the man, but then the insurgent came up, thrusting with an antique rifle taller than he was. Jackson sidestepped the bayonet and wrestled him to the ground, only to be thrown over on his back. Before Jackson could stand, the VC thrust three fingers into his Adam’s apple. The pain paralyzed Jackson. He watched helplessly as the soldier prepared to run him through, until someone’s M16 nearly cut the bastard in half.
After seeing what the VC could do to him with just bare hands, Jackson swore he would someday learn the martial arts himself. Two months after they kicked him out of the Corps, he’d kept his oath…
Jackson’s skills in the ancient arts kicked in as Vincent Holmes reared back to punch the shit out of him. Despite the heroin, despite the euphoria, despite the feeling of equanimity that enveloped Jackson, he knocked Vincent out cold with a kick to the ribs and an elbow to the temple. He turned to Max, who trembled behind the damaged projector.
Max pointed to the door. “Get out of here.”
Jackson jerked his head back to get his hair out of his eyes and moved in close on little Max. Although Jackson weighed nearly nothing, a result of the drugs, his six-foot-two-inch frame towered over his portly young boss.
“Forty-two fifty, man.”
“That’s what you owe me for the week. Forty-two fifty.”
“It’s going to cost more than that to fix the projector. I’m calling the cops.”
“Call the pigs, man. I don’t give a damn. You gonna pay me?” Max flinched when Jackson patted his cheek. “Whatever, man.”
Jackson walked out of the projector room and down the stairs to the lobby. He shakily made his way behind the concession counter and pressed the “No Sale” button on the cash register.
“What you doing, Jackson? You can’t touch that, you know.” Millie was the nicest of the girls who ran the concession stand.
He counted out two twenties and a five. Close enough. “Max said it’s okay, Millie. Besides, I quit anyway. Howard Hughes wants me to run his company, so I said, ‘Okay, man, I can do that.’” He stuffed the bills in his jeans pocket and shot her the peace sign.
Outside the Flynn, Jackson fumbled with his key to unlock a chain that held his rusty Schwinn to the signpost. As he pedaled down the sidewalk, he wondered how many hits he could get out of the forty-five bucks. He knew of two streets on his way to his mother’s house where he could stop and negotiate. They cut the stuff so much now, he was sure he could score a nice price.
The neighborhoods changed from somewhat black to almost all black as he neared his mother’s house. She had lived in it since she married thirty-three years ago, and she said she would be damned if she was going to move out, even if everyone else in the quaint neighborhood was black. Her parents had lived in downtown Charlotte all their lives and Jackson’s mother intended to do likewise. He didn’t give a damn as long as he had a place to crash.
© 2015 by JJ White
Author, Sterling Watson:
In Deviant Acts, J. J. White has reinvented the amateur sleuth. His reluctant PI, Jackson Hurst, is crazy as a loon, funny as hell, and deadly serious. He’s as outside normal life as a man can get and somehow still solidly on the side of the angels. This is a great read. Let’s hope Jackson Hurst goes pro and we get a string of novels about this original and compelling character. ~ Sterling Watson, author of Fighting in the Shade and Suitcase City.