The McGraws are back for more madness and mayhem in this prequel to Rumrunners.
It’s 1971, and outlaw driver Calvin McGraw is grooming his 19-year-old son Webb to uphold the family name. Drugs, money, people—the McGraws drive anything and everything.
When a delivery goes wrong, Calvin steps knee-deep in a turf war between his employer, the Stanleys, and a rival Midwestern crime syndicate, but his week gets a whole lot worse when Webb—on his first solo job—loses the cargo.
“Characters display unexpected but plausible depths, and Beetner effectively balances action scenes with quieter moments. Readers, especially fans of the TV series Fargo, will want to seek out his other work.”
“Masterful, exciting, and obliquely funny.”
“Beetner has taken the bootlegger genre and distilled it down past the landscapes, and idiom, into the pure white lightning that stories about guns and booze deserve. He made it fun as hell. He populates Leadfoot with characters as rich and lively as any Elmore Leonard novel, and when Beetner punches the gas, you can almost see the McGraw’s middle fingers flying as they invite us all along for the ride.”
Brian Panowich, author of Like Lions and Bull Mountain
“Beetner once again proves that he is the one true master of the modern pulp novel.”
“This is good pulp fun with a good hard edge to it, that left me grinning and laughing like Roscoe P. Coltrain.”
“Eric Beetner is already miles ahead of the competition, but in Leadfoot he's found yet another gear.”
Allan Guthrie, author of Slammer
“A killer. If you dug Bull Mountain, you’ll love it.”
Brian Panowich, author of Bull Mountain
“The best word to sum up this book is ’FUN’, in capital letters.”
Stuart MacBride, author of The Missing and the Dead
“A fast and furious read.”
Samuel W. Gailey, author of Deep Winter
“Fast, furious, artful & craftful, fits in a motorcycle jacket. Recommended.”
Sean Doolittle, author of Dirt, Burn and The Cleanup
“With plotting that constantly surprises, Beetner crafts a tale that proves that a pulp adventure can pack a punch and warm your heart all at the same time.”
“Few contemporary writers do justice to the noir tradition the way Eric Beetner does. Others try to emulate and mimic; Beetner just takes the form and cuts his own jagged, raw and utterly readable path.”
Gar Anthony Haywood, author of Assume Nothing, Cemetery Road and the Aaron Gunner series
“It's a fuel-injected, mile-a-minute thrill ride. I had a blast.”
Grant Jerkins, author of A Very Simple Crime and Done In One
“Slow it down, McGraw.”
Calvin McGraw, in his natural element—behind the wheel—turned his eyes to the rearview mirror and looked at his passenger through narrowed lids.
“You have any idea who you’re talking to?”
The man in back turned away and watched the flat Iowa fields race by out his window.
In the passenger seat beside his father, Webb McGraw grinned to himself. He’d grown up in this seat, hanging on around hairpin turns, getting to know the sound of a V8 as keenly as his own dad’s voice. He knew who the man in back was talking to: the best outlaw driver in the Midwest. Maybe anywhere.
Nineteen years old now, Webb had been tagging along on actual jobs with his dad for two years. There were no secrets between McGraw men. Webb knew what his father did. He drove for the Stanleys, a family who would call themselves a criminal empire, but even a nineteen-year-old knew nobody could build an empire in Iowa. An empire of pigs, maybe.
Eyes on the road as he pushed it past seventy, Calvin said to the man in back, “You keeping an eye on the time?”
The man checked his watch. “Ten of.”
“Yeah, so if I don’t run the cylinders a little hot, we ain’t gonna make it. And I never been late yet.”
“I know, Calvin. Jeez. I was just sayin’...”
“Well, Bruce, say it to yourself. I know what the hell I’m doing.”
What they were doing was a delivery, a big part of the McGraw job. They moved things. Used to be crates of booze. Now it was more drugs, money, people. Anything that needed moving by anything that had an engine in it: Calvin McGraw was your man, and he was grooming his son to uphold the family name. Bringing Webb up in the life came with reservations. Calvin and his wife, Dorothy, had many a late night talk about whether to let Webb find his own way in the world; do something beyond the outlaw life, but so far Webb hadn’t shown much interest in anything else.
This was a short run. Eighty-five miles, each way. If Bruce hadn’t been so damn late getting to the pickup, they’d be there already. But Calvin didn’t need to remind him of that, he only needed to drop his foot a little lower and get them to the meet on time.
Webb acted as navigator and called the turn off.
“Up here, Pop.”
Calvin hardly slowed as he spun the wheel on his nearly new Mercury Cougar Eliminator. It took the corner like a champ. In the backseat, Bruce moaned like his stomach was churning. Calvin had heard the sound before.
“You’re gonna upchuck, you roll down the goddamn window. Don’t get it on my seats.”
They were off the highway on a two lane blacktop road leading into what looked like an ocean of green. Hip high corn stalks rose on either side of the road. A murder of crows took to the air as the Mercury’s V8 blasted their picnic with the birdsong of internal combustion.
“There it is,” Webb said, pointing to a farmhouse in the distance.
“What’s the time?” Calvin asked.
Bruce checked his watch again. “Four minutes ‘til.”
Calvin slapped the steering wheel. “Hot damn. Streak stays intact.”
They parked in a gravel strip near the front of the house. On the opposite side, closer to a worn down barn, was a four door Chrysler sedan. Beyond that lay a rusting tiller at the edge of the corn. Calvin left the engine running. He turned to his son. “You want to drive home?”
Webb’s face brightened. “You mean it?”
The gesture of confidence wasn’t lost on the boy. Calvin placed a firm grip on his son’s shoulder, his hand still wrapped in a leather driving glove. He squeezed hard and Webb almost winced, but focused on the look of pride in his dad’s face instead.
Calvin got out and Webb slid over behind the wheel. Bruce climbed out of the back and waited by the trunk. Calvin removed his spare key and handed it to Bruce who unlocked the trunk. Calvin leaned against the car by the driver’s window, unconcerned with what he’d been carrying. Those were the rules—never open the package. Never worry about what’s in there. It’s not your job. Just get it there and get home safe and don’t involve the cops.
Calvin pointed at the wheel. “Hands at ten and two. Never take them off the wheel. Always keep it running. Keep your eyes on your mirrors same as if you were on the highway.”
“What for? We’re stopped.”
“And that makes you twice as easy to ambush. It’s a damn sight easier to sneak up on a parked car than a moving one.”
Webb had been good at absorbing the lessons. They were getting down to the serious stuff now. Calvin had taught the boy how to drive, a skill he’d been born with in his blood. But the job...in a hundred different ways the job could get you killed faster than a head on collision at a hundred miles per.
Calvin wished his son would cut his damn hair, but he knew that didn’t matter. It’s what the kids were doing. Cal had never wavered from his high and tight, even if it did show the first stubby grey hairs mixing salt with the pepper. Driving with Webb these days also meant no radio. They just couldn’t find a thing there to agree on. Better to let the soundtrack be the rumble of the engine and the rush of wind going by.
Seeing his son behind the wheel gave Calvin a twinge of worry—not something he liked on a job. It’s a distraction. And it confused him. Wasn’t this Webb’s birthright? Could his wife be right? Was it too dangerous? He tamped it down, figured it was just the oddness of being out of the driver’s seat. Reminded him of that time he tried to drive one of those little British roadsters with the right hand drive. The mechanics were all the same but damned if it didn’t make him feel like he was driving drunk.
“Shouldn’t be more than five,” Bruce said. “I drop this, then I get the package from him and we’re outta here.”
“You do what you gotta do. We’ll be here.”
Calvin parked himself by the open trunk, ready to receive the next package. As odd as it was not being behind the wheel, Calvin liked getting the chance to stretch his legs.
It also gave him time to think—a dangerous hobby.
Now north of forty, Calvin had been giving thought to retiring. It was part of Webb’s grooming, to make a replacement. But as Webb grew older and the reality appeared on the horizon, he and Dorothy started discussing.
The life of an outlaw wasn’t always easy. It wasn’t always safe. He had taken gunfire over the years. He’d been in a few close scrapes but—knock on wood— he’d never spent even a single night in jail unless you counted that one night in the drunk tank up in Ottawa. He also knew a streak like that was bound to run out.
His own father had cracked up on a right hand turn he’d taken a thousand times before, and at higher speeds. Something about that day made the good lord call him home, but not without merging his face with a tangle of steel and the sharp metal hands of a speedometer, which, if Calvin thought about it, was about the right way for a McGraw to go.
But he didn’t want that for his son, and Dorothy didn’t want that for her husband.
The car’s idle changed and the brake light by Calvin’s knee went dark. He walked back to Webb’s window.
“What are you doing?”
“Nothing. I put it in park.”
“Did I say to do that?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “No. You leave it in gear. Engine on. In gear. Ready to roll.” Calvin looked at his son’s hands. “And Jesus Christ, ten and two.”
Webb lifted his hand from his knee where he’d let it rest. He shrank in the seat, felt his cheeks go hot same as they did when he got scolded as a toddler.
“I’m not saying this just to be saying it, Webb. This is important shit.”
He put the car in drive, kept his foot on the brake. Hands in position.
Calvin went back behind the car, drummed his leather-wrapped fingers on the open trunk. The first gunshot came from deep within the house. A second and third came quickly after, each one getting closer.
Calvin tensed, his hands reflexively reaching for a steering wheel that wasn’t there. The front door banged open and Bruce came falling out, hands clutching his gut. Calvin jumped to the passenger door, got it open and shoved the front seat forward to make an open path into the back for Bruce.
Another shot splintered against the door frame as Bruce dug a gun out of his coat pocket, turned, and fired a wild shot that banged into the porch wood and burrowed there. The recoil of the gun made it drop from his weakened hand.
“Go, go,” Calvin urged him.
Behind the wheel, Webb waited for his father to come take over, his knuckles white in his clock position.
Calvin didn’t carry a gun. He never needed one. He waited outside the action, in the car. A disused Browning sat in the glove box, but that seemed miles away now as Bruce stumbled forward like a drunk, leaving a trail of blood down the steps of the porch and across the gravel.
Calvin put a hand on his arm and guided him into the backseat as two men burst through the front door. Cal flipped the seat back into position and slid down into the passenger side. It felt like putting on your pants backward.
A bullet pierced the side of the Mercury and Calvin cringed as if he’d been hit himself. The competition orange color and hood stripes had been extra. To get it repainted would cost a fortune. But Calvin knew they were lucky to get away with their hides.
Webb pressed his foot to the floor and the tires kicked gravel. The trunk lid nodded like it was waving goodbye.
“You know your way out?” Calvin asked.
“Good. Get us to that blacktop and they can’t catch us.”
This was Webb’s test, and he aimed to pass it.
Eric Beetner is the author of more than a dozen novels, including Leadfoot, Rumrunners, The Devil Doesn't Want Me, When the Devil Comes to Call, Dig Two Graves, Run For The Money, The Year I Died Seven Times, and The Lawyer: Blood Moon. He is co-author (with JB Kohl) of the novels One Too Many Blows To The Head, Borrowed Trouble and Over Their Heads, and co-wrote The Backlist and The Short-List with Frank Zafiro. He lives in Los Angeles