The Heat is On
For rock and roll writer Mick Sever, another story, another deadly island paradise is all in a day's work. This time, Mick heads to Nassau, Bahamas, home of the legendary Highland Studio. Known for pumping out hits that burn up the charts, Highland is where the magic happensor rather, where the magic happened until a devastating fire destroyed the entire studio. No one knows how the fire started, who started itor whose body was found among the charred ruins. Sent to get the inside story on the opening of the new Highland Studio, Mick finds this is hardly the Phoenix-rising-out-of-the-ashes story he expected. Some say the studio's haunted, some say it's cursed, but one thing is for sure: someoneor somethingwants to stop the music. A smashed guitar and erased tracks send a subtle warning, but murder? That's an entirely different tune. If Mick doesn't act fast, Highland Studio, along with everything and everyone in its path, could go up in smoke. It's not always better to burn out than to fade away.
About the Author
Don Bruns is an award-winning novelist, songwriter, musician and advertising executive, who lives in South Florida. He is also the author of Stuff to Spy For , Stuff Dreams Are Made Of , Stuff To Die For , Bahama Burnout , St. Barts Breakdown , South Beach Shakedown , Barbados Heat and Jamaica Blue .
Read an Excerpt
By Don Bruns
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2009 Don Bruns
All rights reserved.
The smell of burning rubber hung in the air as the thin black man surveyed the dimly lit room. The twenty-foot long mixing board with its glowing slides and meters gave off an eerie greenish-gold hue, and just beyond the board he could see the glass-enclosed recording studio. He used to mix sound that came from that room. On this very board. Now, they used Pro-Tools and you could get about as much sound off a personal computer as you could from this expensive piece of electronic wizardry.
He'd shut the vacuum cleaner off five minutes ago, and still the odor lingered. Damned rubber drive belt. The smell was even stronger now. He gave the room one more glance. There was a time when he ruled this room. When his ears and his style with the board were in great demand. There was a time, several years ago, when he would tweak the sound, punch the percussion, compress the throbbing guitars, and Highland Recording Studios would release a song, a song he'd engineered, that was already destined to be a monster hit. Times had changed. Music had changed. The bands were engineering their own music now, and he didn't understand the new music anyway. It wasn't music anymore. Not even rock and roll. Just percussive madness that was peppered with grotesque lyrics and repetitive electronic rhythms.
He leaned down and smelled the sweeper. He'd been wrong. The vacuum wasn't the cause of the odor. He'd been relegated to cleaning up other people's messes. On a larger scale, that had been his job as an engineer, cleaning up the sound. Now, they asked him to clean up the studio. On a part-time basis, and the engineering jobs were infrequent at best.
He'd produced the album for the band Johnny Run. Just recently. It was the last project they'd given him, and the album wasn't doing well at all. Deep in his gut, he knew that the project wasn't up to par.
If it wasn't the rubber belt overheating on the sweeper, it must be coming from another part of the building. Or maybe kids, burning old tires or rags back in the alley. Highland Point, a small rise of land about four miles west of Cable Beach, sat directly across from the water. Like a lot of Nassau, it fronted out beautifully, but fell apart behind the scenes. An alley filled with trash and rotting garbage ran behind the old building that housed Highland Recording Studios, and kids were always causing trouble back there.
The man took another whiff and tried to identify the location. He'd blame it on one of his cheap cigars or a bad joint that he'd lit up, but to the best of his recollection, he hadn't smoked anything tonight. Probably the kids. Kids who lived in the cheap stucco homes behind the light blue pastel-colored studio. Kids who stole tires off cars in the village, who stole sea grapes, mangos, oranges, and kanips to sell and buy drugs with their profits.
He shoved the vacuum down a long hallway lined with gold records. Some of them he'd worked on. Robert Palmer, George Thorogood, Rick Ramone, Kid Rock, Jimmy Buffett ... He didn't bother to look. It was a long time ago, and the plaques just made him sad.
The flash outside the lobby window startled him as he came to the end of the hall. Maybe a car's headlights from the road. But more like a flare, with a fiery brilliance. Then he saw it again for just an instant, a reflection from behind him. At the same time he heard a deep thundering rumble at the rear of the building. He spun around, his chest tight, and he gasped, his breathing raspy. An orange ball of fire had filled the hall he had just stepped out of, and it raced toward him, the oppressive heat sucking oxygen from the air. A mind-numbing explosion drowned out everything around him as he saw a young black man, running full speed, just ahead of the flame. The last thing he remembered was the sharp, intense pain as the window glass shattered and shards hurled from their frames, burying themselves in his body like dozens of knives as the flames consumed his clothes.CHAPTER 2
A rusty sixties Cadillac sat up on blocks at the house next door, its wheels bare of tires. "Elvis owned that car." Jonah Britt smiled, his eyes lingering on the eyesore.
"Somehow I find that hard to believe." Mick Sever sipped his Kalick Beer, sitting on a wicker chair on the crushed stone patio outside the studio.
"Lady over there who owns it keeps telling me that. Wants to sell it for ten thousand dollars. Of course, she can't produce the papers. The son who lives with her is a burnout, but he's got stories about that car." Britt rolled his eyes. He reached down by his chair and scratched the ears of a small gray cat. The feline rippled with delight, then walked away.
"Elvis always had General Motors put a small plastic plaque on the dash with the Cadillac logo and his name. I bought one of those plaques for a friend a couple of years ago. The car belonged to his girlfriend, Linda Thompson, after Elvis died."
Britt nodded. "I heard he owned at least twenty Caddies and gave away a bunch more." He flipped his cigarette ash into the colorful landscaping with its frangipani and croton trees and squeezed a lime into his mug, the golden beer shimmering in the bright sunlight.
"So, you like the new place?"
Sever nodded his head.
"Of course it lacks the charm of the old building." There seemed to be a sadness in the deep green eyes. Britt rubbed a spot on his receding hairline. Sever remembered when hair hung down in his eyes. Several years ago. "You know, Mick, the old building had its time and place. This is so much more efficient."
"The gold records?"
"Lost most of them. Just melted down to blobs. We've got a company trying to replicate some of them, and we asked some of the record companies to replace the rest but —" He let the words drift off. Both men were silent for a moment. "There was a lot of history here."
Sever looked back from the wicker chair and table, surveying the new, state-of-the-art studio. "Won't be the same."
"Nothing is, Mick. Christ, the kids today, they can do everything we do here in their bedrooms at home. I mean, the software gets more sophisticated every day. It's hard for us to keep up."
Next door, maybe forty feet away, a dark-skinned, shirtless man in his early twenties stepped out onto a small concrete patio, looked around with a glazed expression, then spotted Sever and Britt, both watching him. He stared at them for a good thirty seconds with that blank look on his face.
Britt finally lifted his arm and waved at the man. "Bernard, the lady's kid. He's got a twin brother who now lives with his father."
He waved back, recognition dawning on his face, then walked toward the two men.
"Did you show your friend the Cadillac, Mr. Britt? He can sit inside if he wants to. It's for sale, you know."
Britt smiled. "I did, Bernard. Told him who owned it and how much you want." He motioned to Sever, putting the reporter on the spot.
Sever gave him a look, then covered with the kid. "Haven't got that kind of money right now, man. And I was never a big Elvis fan." It was a lie, but the kid didn't have to know. Sever had been a huge Elvis fan. One of his biggest regrets was that he'd never interviewed the singer. "Sorry." He shrugged his shoulders.
"Don't tell Etta May that." The young man pointed his finger at Sever. "She loved Elvis. Says he was the first and last really good rocker. A good Christian boy."
Sever glanced at Britt. "Etta May?"
"Ah. Sorry, Bernard, no sale today."
The young man frowned. "You think about it. If you change your mind, you let me and Etta May know." He walked to the car and brushed some imaginary dirt from the rusted body, then headed back inside his small concrete-block house. He turned just before going in. "I can make you a really good deal."
"Can't swing it, man."
He nodded and walked back into the small house.
"Mom and the kid." Britt laughed. "They're a pair."
"Elvis, a good Christian boy?"
"Should have bought the car, Mick."
"If it had been Elvis's car, I'd have considered it."
Sever drained the rest of his beer as the French doors leading into the studio swung open.
"Jonah, the guys need you in Studio C. They're having a crisis over whether to add strings or just go naked." The forty-year-old woman with shorts, bare feet, and a T-shirt smiled at Mick. The shirt had a two-wheeled bike printed on the chest. The slogan was simple. Put Some Excitement Between Your Legs. Billy B's Bikes, Nassau.
"Let me get these guys settled down, Mick. You've got nothing but time, right?"
"Yeah. Nothing but."
Britt pushed himself out of the chair, took a moment to straighten up, and walked into the building as the girl walked out.
"So, Mick, you're doing a story for —?"
"Real mainstream, Rita. Newsweek. Stodgy old magazine trying to attract a younger crowd."
She sat down and took a swallow of Britt's beer. "And they want to do a story on our little studio, huh?"
"Highland Recording. It's where the action is."
She studied him, squinting her eyes to avoid the brilliant late-morning sun. "Was, Mick. Not so much anymore." She crossed her tanned legs, and Sever let his eyes drop for just a second. She noticed.
"I'm going to do a little bit of history about the old place, then write about your plans for the new place. Maybe throw in a little bit about home studios, too."
"What about the body?"
Sever paused. "The body?"
"The one they call the 'ghost.' "
"The remains of the person that they found after the fire — they call that person the 'ghost'?"
"I hadn't heard him referred to as a ghost. Kind of an eerie tone to the story. Who started it?"
"The locals ..." She hesitated. "It's an island of superstition, Mick. The Bahamians are superstitious people. Ghosts and things that go bump in the night."
"I've read stories. Christianity mixed with ancient African myths?"
"Oh, yeah. There's Molly Bay, a drowned African slave who haunts Little Exuma Island. There are stories about creatures called "chickcharnies." Three-toed sprites with red eyes who hang upside down from trees on the island of Andros and can turn a person's head around to face backward. It's amazing that in today's world people can still believe these things."
Sever nodded. "The story about the body has been in all the papers back in the States. As I understand it, they found the charred remains of a body. No one knows who it was, but the suspicion was that the ashes were the remains of the person who started the fire. I'm going to mention it in the story. It's what happened, right?"
"God, Mick. Why can't we just get back to business? As much as I want to get to the reason behind the fire, I do not want to revisit the fact that someone died in that fire. That was someone's child. It's tragic. And you've got to bring it up again? Can't you just leave it out of your report?"
"Come on Rita. It's already reached legendary status."
She gazed at him with watery eyes. "I suppose."
"So tell me this. Did anyone ever suggest doing tests to find DNA?"
"DNA?" She laughed out loud. "Do you think we have that technology here? This country is barely capable of delivering a newborn. They can't do a decent heart bypass, and you want DNA?"
"Mick, they have no idea who died in the fire. The body was burned beyond recognition. They think it was a young man, maybe fifteen to twenty, but they're not even sure about that. I don't think they will ever find out."
"Do you have any ideas?"
"We've talked about it a hundred times. There were a handful of musicians who had keys. A couple of part-time producers ... a guy who did odd jobs around the place, but none of them were regulars, so we don't know who would be missing."
"If it was an outsider who started the fire —"
"Mick, I don't want to go there. Can we change the subject?"
"You pick the topic."
Rita took several deep breaths, looked away from Sever for a moment, then focused on him. "You're going to do a nice profile on Jonah?"
"You and Jonah. Yeah. That's the theme."
She nodded. "We could use the exposure." It was as if the subject of a dead body had been forgotten.
He gave her a broad smile. "You're all about exposure, Rita. Always have been."
"You're full of shit, Mick. And anyway, I've mellowed some since you saw me last."
Mellowed? He didn't think so. There was still a strong edge. "You still providing whatever the boys in the band want?"
She swung her head back in mock surprise. "Mr. Sever, everything but that."
They laughed. "So what's the latest strange request?"
"Not from the boys this time. From a lady singer, you know her ... not a virgin anymore. She's been around for a while, done some movies, she's one of the last ones who recorded in the old place. She and her band worked until about midnight, one o'clock, and Jonah was running the board. They finally gave up the ghost," she shuddered, obviously realizing she'd brought up the word ghost again, "and went across the street to the small hotel."
"Nothing big, but I heard the phone at three a.m. I answered it and it's the girl. They're staying at the Compass Point Hotel across the street. Where you're staying. She wants a bikini wax and damn it, she wants it now."
"Wait a minute. You mean you gave her —"
"Hell no." She shook her head. "Close your mouth, Mick. I didn't give her anything."
Damn. Now that would have been an interesting story.
"But by God I found someone who would. Took me almost an hour. We had to wake this lady up, but the singer got the wax."
Sever gave her a big smile. "Rita, if you've got enough money, the world just opens up."
She stood. "And they all have the money, Mick. Come on, I want you to see something. I don't think Jonah showed you the latest addition."
They walked into the flat-roofed building, through the chrome-and-steel lobby with the swirling neon patterns on the wall. Past the long, glass-topped desk, the Andy Warhol original painting, and a charcoal sketch of Bob Marley. The insurance had covered some nice art.
"Down this hall." She took his hand and tugged as she picked up the pace. Sever noticed the gray cat following close behind. "Jonah moved his collection of guitars in here. It's like a hall of fame." They reached the door. "Now, before you walk in, remember some of the classics. The guitar that Jonah actually played on Black Medallions' Lines In Faces, a Pete Townsend guitar that Pete used on the Tommy album, and about thirty others. Take a look." She unlocked the door, pushed it open, reached around Sever, and flipped the light switch. Brightly colored electric guitars were displayed on the walls, hung by some invisible wires and highlighted with pin spot lights carefully placed in the ceiling. A handful of shimmering acoustic guitars were displayed on the floor, in matte-black stands, looking as if they were ready to be picked up and played by their owners in just minutes.
"Right here is one of Eric Clapton's Martin guitars." She reached out her right hand, motioning, but careful not to touch the instrument. "He used this on MTV's Unplugged show. And the one with the sunburst finish," she walked across the hardwood floor, pointing to the far wall, "it's a Paul Reed Smith. I think it may be Dicky Betts's guitar, from the Alman Brothers. And over there —" she stopped, the expression frozen on her face.
"Over there what?"
"Oh my God."
Then he saw it. The jumbo Gibson lay face down on the floor against the far wall. He recognized the body style, but it wasn't easy. The guitar was smashed as if someone had stepped on it with a large boot. The neck appeared to be snapped in half and splinters of spruce and mahogany spread from the center of the broken instrument. The small gray cat stalked the instrument, voicing a soft meow.
"Who? Who would, who could do something like this? My God. Who?" She was shaking, an ashen hue to her skin. Sever saw tears rolling down her cheeks.
He walked to the guitar and looked up at the wall. The small engraved plaque simply said Sheryl Crow Gibson. "Hey, settle down. It was heavy and maybe the mount didn't hold. Maybe it just fell." He gently knelt, his right leg slightly stiff.
Excerpted from Bahama Burnout by Don Bruns. Copyright © 2009 Don Bruns. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The story line was very good, I liked the idea. However I felt it was slow to start. Several times I put it down but decided to finish it. It and did not move at a fast pace at all, waited to long for the stoy to come together.
If you're looking for a good summer read, check out Don Bruns' new thriller, Bahama Burnout. The fifth book in the Mick Sever series, Bahama Burnout keeps readers guessing until the very end in this whodunit rock-and-roll caper. This time around, Sever, an entertainment journalist, is sent to the Bahamas to cover the opening of Highland Studios. In the past, the studio pumped out hit after hit, but then a devastating fire engulfed the entire facility. The charred remains of a body were found in the rubble and the police, with their primitive facilities (unable to test DNA) assumed it was the person who started the fire. But the corpse was never identified. Is the real criminal still at large? Determined to keep their studio running, owners Jonah and Rita Britt rebuild the studio. By the time Sever arrives, strange things have begun happening in the newly opened Highland Studios. A recording session tape, recorded by seasoned engineer Jonah, is mysteriously erased, a priceless guitar is found smashed, and a voodoo doll that appears in Sever's hotel room are some of the bizarre things that have happened in and around the studio. Rita Britt is convinced that a ghost is causing all the problems; possibly the ghost of the person who died in the fire. However, Jonah and Mick are convinced there must be a logical explanation and set about searching for clues. Shortly after Mick arrives, the manager of Johnny Run, a once hot rock group who is cutting an album at the studio, is found murdered. Will the case get solved before another body turns up? Bahama Burnout gets off to a fast start, with the destruction of Highland Studios on the first few pages. With Bruns' easy writing style, it doesn't take long to get into the story. Who are those strange neighbors - Bernard and his mother Etta May - and is that really Elvis's Cadillac in their front yard? There are quite a few key characters in this novel, many with the motive and means to be the culprit, so don't skip a page. Just when it seems the mystery is solved, Bruns takes his story in another direction to keep the reader speculating. Quill says: A great summer read that will keep you guessing until the very end.
Internationally famous and highly regarded rock critic and music journalist Mick Sever travels to the Bahamas where he will cover the story of the return of renowned Highland Studio in Nassau. The studio, known for mega-hits, burned down last year with an unknown corpse found amid the ashes. Although the arson and potential homicide remain unsolved, owners Jonah and Rita Britt have rebuilt it and are ready to launch their label again.
However, the renaissance is not going smooth as someone is sabotaging the effort. Rita believes the ghost of the victim who died in the fire is the current troublemaking culprit as a Sheryl Crow guitar has been smashed for who knows why and tracks are being erased. Following a murder of a band manager, Mick believes the saboteur-killer is human and begins to investigate before Highland Studio is sent to rock and roll heaven forever.
The fifth Bruns' Caribbean music mystery (see JAMAICA BLUE, BARBADOS HEAT and ST. BART'S BREAKDOWN ) is an entertaining whodunit filled with more spins than a 45 contains (no comment on age please). The story line is fast-paced from the moment Mick arrives on the Bahamas and never slows down as he seeks a motive for last year¿s incident and the current events in the past of the studio and its owners. Fans will enjoy sleuthing with Sever as he tours the Bahamas.