“Burnsworth nails the voice of new Southern noir. This talented author will win you over with his engaging and multi-faceted hero, then keep you turning pages with his suspense, Southern-voiced wit and sharp insight into the not-so-pleasant side of a fascinating city.” – Hank Phillippi Ryan, Mary Higgins Clark Award-Winning Author of Say No More
Lowcountry bar owner and ex-Marine Brack Pelton heads to Atlanta in the wake of a panicked 3 AM phone call. A woman is missing and Brack’s friend Mutt is in danger. Brack’s old flame, investigative news correspondent Darcy Wells, now lives there and is set to marry another man. If Brack was honest with himself, and he usually wasn’t, he’d realize that the missing woman isn’t the reason for his visit. His Semper Fi buddy Mutt can handle himself just fine.
When Brack and Mutt team up to find the woman, the Atlanta underworld revolts, the two biggest players target them, and people start dying. Most people would size up the situation, call it impossible, and walk away. But most people are not Brack Pelton. Impossible situations are his specialty. He made it through Afghanistan and when the military commanders mistook suicidal tendencies for leadership qualities they promoted him. Can Brack succeed at finding the woman, protecting his friend, and winning the girl without destroying the Capital of the South? Not since Sherman’s march across Georgia has the city of Atlanta been in this much danger.
“Hop on board for a hard-edged debut that’s fully loaded with car chases (particularly Mustangs), war veterans, old grudges, and abundant greed. A choppy start belies a well-executed plotline enhanced by the atmospheric Palmetto State setting.” – Library Journal (on Southern Heat)
“This second case for Brack is marked by a challenging mystery, quirky characters, and nonstop action.” ―Kirkus Reviews (on Burning Heat)
“In Brack Pelton, Burnsworth introduces a jaded yet empathetic character I hope to visit again and again.” – Susan M. Boyer, Agatha Award-Winning Author of Lowcountry Book Club
“What could be more fun than sitting down with a David Burnsworth novel about Brack Pelton and his colorful life in Charleston?…Burnsworth is outstanding as he brings out the heat, the smells, the colors, and the history of Charleston during Pelton’s mission to bring the killer to justice.” – John Carenen, Author of A Far Gone Night
“If you have always suspected that there is more to Charleston than quaint Southern charm and ghost stories, then David Burnsworth’s noir series, featuring ex-soldier, tiki bar owner, and part time beach bum, Brack Pelton may just be the antidote to a surfeit of sweet tea.” – Michael Sears, Shamus Award-Winning Author of Black Fridays
Related subjects include: Private investigator books, suspense, whodunit mysteries whodunnit, murder mystery series, Southern fiction.
Books in the Brack Pelton Mystery Series:
SOUTHERN HEAT (#1)
BURNING HEAT (#2)
BIG CITY HEAT (#3)
Books in the Blu Carraway Mystery Series:
BLU HEAT (Prequel Novella)
IN IT FOR THE MONEY (#1)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you’ll probably like them all...
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Read an Excerpt
Atlanta, Georgia, Wednesday night, Mid-May
Brack Pelton waited in his Porsche by a no-parking zone in a very bad part of the city and watched someone he thought he knew well climb out of an old Eldorado convertible. The man entered a ramshackle building with a neon beer mug shining through its one dirty window.
Easing away from the red-marked bus stop, Brack found a better location down the block and pulled in. Before getting out of the Porsche, he woke Shelby, his tan mixed-breed dog slumbering in the backseat, and pulled a forty-five from the glovebox. He verified a round was chambered.
Shelby licked his lips and gave a quick bark as Brack slid the pistol down the back waistband of his cargo shorts.
Patting his dog on the head, Brack asked, "Ready?"
A needless question. Another bark affirmed Shelby's stand on things.
"When we get inside, your job is to find Mutt. Okay?"
Shelby licked his face. Brack knew that as long as their target hadn't escaped out some back door, Shelby would find him. Mutt was one of his favorite people. Brack's too. That was why tracking him like this went against everything he believed in doing.
Mutt was the one who often rode shotgun with Brack as they'd right Charleston's wrongs. Now Mutt was the one in the crosshairs. Thanks to an early morning phone call from Cassie, Mutt's girlfriend, a life depended on answers his friend would give. The forty-five wouldn't come out unless trouble came up.
The barroom's rusty screen door screeched open. Shelby darted ahead, already focused on his objective. Brack entered a time warp. Uncanny how even the sour bar wash fragrance and cigarette smoke were the same. Through the old familiar haze, he imagined Mutt standing behind a peeling Formica counter pouring drinks to patrons who could barely afford their rent. Somehow, Mutt had managed to replicate his termite-infested watering hole three hundred miles west of where his original joint stood before some spoiled neighborhood brat burned it down.
"You lost?" A very large African-American man wearing a soiled wife-beater chalking a pool cue confronted the white newcomer.
Meeting his gaze, Brack said, "No. I'm looking for a loudmouth Marine named Mutt. If he's here drinking, the rounds are on me. If he owns this place, I'm going to beat the life out of him."
"Big talk coming from someone in yo' shoes," he said.
Four other men flanked him, two on each side, all with arms folded across their meaty chests. Five soiled wife-beaters in a row. A worn-out AC unit clicked and sputtered, failing to condition the polluted air in the establishment.
Shelby seemed to take longer than usual to find Mutt. Only one thing could sidetrack him. But no women had ever been present in the original Mutt's Bar in Charleston. They'd been afraid to enter the place.
Maybe Atlanta women were different.
Casually Brack removed the half-smoked cigar he'd been saving in his pocket and lit it. The only faithful friend he had left at the moment was his own adrenaline. Brack was angry at Mutt and wouldn't mind working it out of his system on these five gentlemen facing him.
Three more joined them.
Okay, these eight gentlemen.
Brack felt more gather behind him.
His wayward dog better have a real good excuse for not warning him.
Taking a drag on the stogie, he exhaled a cloud of smoke to add to the carcinogenic fog. "It's going to be a bad day for some of you."
Chuckles echoed around the room, undoubtedly at his expense.
Mutt pushed his way through the gathering mob. A few inches over six feet, he'd replaced his boxed Afro with a close trim since the last time Brack had seen him. His clothes were of a more recent vintage, another change, and to Brack's untrained eye, quite stylish.
"Opie, you always got to do things the hard way, don't 'cha?"
Brack couldn't decide if he wanted to punch him or shake his hand. The fact that his friend sported a bridge that replaced his missing front teeth also caught him off guard.
Shelby was not with Mutt.
From behind, Brack heard the gruff words, "You want us to take this cracker out back, Mutt?"
Mutt knew as well as Brack did that they were greatly outnumbered. But Brack figured Mutt also knew that a few of his patrons would spend the next few weeks in the hospital if things went south.
Before either of them could say anything, a husky female voice came from somewhere in the crowd.
"You got the prettiest dog."
All the men turned in the direction of the voice. Through a break in the undershirt line, Brack observed a heavyset black woman in a way-too-tight purple body suit. Clearly she'd fallen in love with his dog. Her extra-long orange day-glo fingernails scratched behind his ears.
Sitting on his haunches with closed eyes, Shelby flapped his tongue and panted in what Brack recognized as pure bliss. Two other women wearing similar attire also gave Shelby their full attention.
Brack was about to get pummeled by eight or more hulks itching to right the wrongs of their world, yet his dog had managed to pick up what looked like all the women in the establishment.
The spokesman for the wife-beater ensemble said, "We ain't finished wit you, white boy."
Brack turned back to him.
Mutt got between them.
"Easy, Charlie. He's my brother."
The men looked at each other as if Mutt and Brack could possibly be related. Of course, they weren't in the traditional sense.
"Summertime" by Billy Stewart began to play somewhere in the room. A real classic.
Circling Shelby, the women moved their ample hips to the beat. The dog, in plus-sized heaven, spun around, not sure which lady to kiss first.
A fourth woman Brack hadn't noticed until now came from behind the bar to stand beside Mutt. Almost as tall as Brack, with dark brown skin, a buzzed haircut, and toned figure bordering on muscular. Her inked-up arms momentarily distracted Brack.
The man Mutt called Charlie said, "I don't care who you think he is. He ain't got the juice to come in here talking about beatin' you up."
Mutt turned to his old friend. "You said you was gonna beat me up?"
"Something like that." Brack cocked his head. "I get a call begging me to drive here from Charleston. It's Cassie. She's scared half to death because some men threatened her, and she doesn't know what you do when you leave her house late at night. Put yourself in her shoes."
The woman bartender looked at him. "You must be Brack."
Mutt interrupted. "Opie, I'ma tell you like I tol' Cassie. What I do is my bidness. She ain't got no right to ask."
Charlie moved in like he was about to throw a punch.
Before Brack could react, the toned female bartender grabbed Charlie by the shirt collar and said, "You really don't want to do that."
Mutt said, "Easy there, Tara. We all friends here."
She didn't let go.
Charlie backed off.
Brack dropped what was left of his cigar on the floor, crushed it with his foot, and turned back to Mutt. "You better tell me what's going on, or I will beat the everliving daylights out of you."CHAPTER 2
Thursday morning, two a.m.
Mutt and Brack cruised along Peachtree Street in the Porsche, top down, with Shelby asleep in the backseat. It was way past Brack's bedtime, and traffic was light. Tara stayed behind to close up the bar. She could definitely handle herself.
"Cassie told me on the phone that her kid sister's missing. What do you know about it?"
Mutt pulled out an electronic cigarette contraption Brack had heard called a vaporizer.
"Regan been gone 'bout a month."
"And now Cassie is in danger?"
He took two drags off the vaporizer. "I started asking around and found out Regan got in wit some bad people."
"Lemme put it to you this way," he said. "All I did was ask a few peoples if they knew where she was at, and the next day these dudes on motorcycles threaten Cassie."
"Threatened like how?"
"They caught her when she was leaving the restaurant late one night. Tol' her I shouldn't ask no more questions or someone might get hurt."
He looked at Brack. "All I did was ask if anyone'd seen her sister."
Brack slowed for a light. "Who'd you ask?"
"Everyone we know."
"That doesn't help."
"This ain't Charleston, Opie. You mighta gotten away with a lot there, but the playas here mean bidness."
Brack said, "When did you start vaping?"
"Cassie seemed to think it was a good idea."
"Well, you look good, Mutt. You look good."
He lifted the collar of his new sport coat. "You like this?"
"I couldn't wear something that nice on a regular basis, but it looks good on you."
Mutt checked out Brack's faded Blue Oyster Cult t-shirt and frayed shorts. "You in the big city now, Opie. We gotta get you something else to wear."
"What we need to do is take care of the bikers and find Regan."
After another puff on his fake smoke, Mutt said, "I found out where she is."
It was Brack's turn to look at his friend. "Where?"
"There's a guy here, runs most of the illegal stuff in the city. Name's Vito. She workin' for him."
The light turned green and Brack accelerated. "I guess we know where to go next."
"We can't go bustin' up in his crib and expect him to just hand her over."
"Maybe you can't," Brack said. "Where we headed, anyway?"
"Turn right at the next light."
"That still doesn't answer my question."
"My house," he said. "You and Shelby need a place to stay, don'cha?"
Eleven a.m., Thursday
After oversleeping, Brack and Shelby drove out to Midtown to see Cassie Thibedeaux at her new restaurant. They'd slept at Mutt's house, a pretty decent rental a few blocks from his bar. Brack awoke and found Mutt already gone, which irritated him to no end. He must have walked back to get his car.
When Cassie had gotten him up with the phone call at two a.m. the Tuesday night before, Brack realized she'd taken up with Mutt. And that Mutt had so-called "retired" on his fire insurance proceeds and moved to Atlanta a year ago to be nearer to his daughter who lived with his ex. Cassie had run a great soul food restaurant in Charleston and opened a similar place in Atlanta. Mutt told Brack she'd convinced her New York City sister, Regan, to join her here. With Regan now missing, Cassie had good reason to be scared.
Brack assumed that Cassie had called him because he and Mutt were friends. That he and Mutt had already been through a lot together. And that he would do anything for his friend, even driving five hours to help him any way he could.
Mutt, for all his good qualities, didn't help matters by neglecting to tell Cassie about his latest business venture — another old beer joint. Brack considered, not for the first time, that the couple's separate residences allowed Mutt to do pretty much whatever he wanted.
Pulling into her restaurant's parking lot, Brack noticed that she'd named her business after herself as she had in Charleston — a similarity she shared with Mutt. Cassie's stood among a row of premium addresses along Peachtree Street in what was referred to by Atlantans as Midtown. Decorated to look as if it came directly from the lowcountry, its pastel blue shutters were hinged across the top of the windows and propped open at the bottom to provide shade and light at the same time. The window frames were trimmed in white. The only touch missing was a palmetto tree, yet Brack was sure he'd spot one somewhere.
Not knowing if it was okay for Shelby to come inside, they walked around the perimeter. Because Brack owned two establishments in Charleston — a run-down bar called Pirate's Cove on the Isle of Palms, and a new place his manager, Paige, was in the process of opening on Kiawah Island — he knew enough about drainage, convenient parking, and entryways and exits to realize that Cassie's new place appeared well-planned.
Once the pair made the full loop and faced the entrance again, a squat figure wearing a bright green flowing dress barreled out the door.
"Hey, handsome!" She threw her short meaty arms around Brack before he could stop her.
He tried not to squirm. "Good to see you too, Cassie."
A few inches over five feet, with thick features all around, this woman was strong enough to force the air out of his lungs.
Shelby, Brack's sometimes best friend, gave a jealous bark.
Cassie released Brack and knelt to give the four-legged lady-killer a more gentle welcome. "How you doin', baby?"
Shelby promptly rolled onto his back and let her scratch his belly.
Brack said, "Thanks for calling me."
"You mean it?" She looked up at him. "I wasn't sure it was the right thing to do."
"Of course it was. I'm sorry you were threatened."
Looking back to Shelby's tummy rub, she said, "Me too."
"Would you be able to recognize them?"
"No. It was dark and they was wearing masks."
Brack didn't buy it, but let her slide. "If you want to talk about something else, we can."
Still kneeling next to Shelby, she said, "No. You come all this way to he'p. And I appreciate it. I had no one else to turn to." Her voice broke.
"What about the police?"
"I filled out all the papers," she said. "B-but they said not to get my hopes up." Tears streamed down her worry-lined face.
Shelby got to his feet, and did his best to lick them away.
Brack said, "I'll do what I can to get Regan back."
She gave Shelby a kiss and stood, brushing sidewalk dust from her dress. After a deep breath and exhale, she said, "I know you will."
Her light skin color accentuated her round face and big brown eyes.
"Why didn't Mutt call me himself?"
Cassie didn't reply, letting him figure it out.
Then he understood. "Pride."
"He got a lot of that."
Me too, Brack thought.
Hungry from skipping breakfast, Brack looked past her to the restaurant. "You got anything left over from yesterday to eat?"
"Sure do, hon."
Inside, the restaurant was all light pine flooring and pastel blue walls trimmed in white, with framed photos of live oaks and African-American women clothed in the white cotton wraps associated with Gullah.
No one else was around.
"Cassie, I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but I suggest you not be here by yourself until this is over."
"Ain't nothin' gonna happen to me in daylight," she said, batting a hand in the air. "And I make sure someone walk me to my car at night since them men scared me."
He felt her reasoning about safety in daylight was about as good as his own, usually. In this case, dangerously wrong.
She donned a large apron, and while she fried drumsticks, smashed potatoes, and heated up collards for him, she deboned a plateful of chicken for Shelby.
With all of them in the kitchen — a health-code violation that came with a hefty fine if found — Brack swallowed a mouthful of delicious cornbread, hoped the inspector wouldn't show up, and asked about her sister.
She said, "I love her, but she is one wild child. Always has been."
"Is that why you think she's in trouble?"
Shaking her head, she said, "I don't know. I thought when she come here it would all be good. She'd work in the restaurant wit me and Mutt. We'd be family."
"Instead, she hit the town, didn't she?"
After a moment, Cassie said, "Yes."
"When was the last time you saw her?"
"About a month ago. I went over to her apartment."
"I'd like to take a look there," Brack said. "Any chance you have a key?"
Cassie did have a key. She'd been to Regan's every other day but said she didn't do more than just see if her sister was there. As far as Cassie knew, Mutt hadn't been over there at all, which seemed odd to Brack.
As Shelby and Brack walked out of Cassie's place, Mutt rang his cell phone.
"Where you at?"
"Leaving Cassie's. Where are you?"
"Back home now."
"I've got the key to Regan's apartment."
"Well, come get me."
"Sounds like Shaft is ready to roll," Brack said, kidding Mutt about his obsession with Richard Roundtree.
"Cocked and locked."
Arriving back at Mutt's place, Brack guided Shelby into the one-story rental house. His dog wasn't keen on being left alone, but experience told Brack that walking into someone else's apartment without permission was hit or miss. He didn't want Shelby in danger.
Ten minutes later, with Mutt riding shotgun, Brack plugged Regan's address into the Porsche's GPS.
As they followed the electronic female voice commands through the city, Brack asked,
"So where were you this morning?"
"Had to go to Taliah's school," he said. "By the way, we gotta pick her up at three, so get a move on."
"Yessir," Brack said.
Taliah, Mutt's exceptionally bright thirteen-year-old daughter, was the reason he'd moved back to Atlanta. Expected to graduate early from high school the following summer, she was already taking college-level courses. In other words, much smarter than Mutt and Brack put together.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Big City Heat"
Copyright © 2017 David Burnsworth.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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