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.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me…
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 ever-living daylights out of you.”
Excerpt from Big City Heat: A Brack Pelton Mystery by David Burnsworth. Copyright © 2017 by David Burnsworth. Reproduced with permission from David Burnsworth. All rights reserved.
David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. He is the author of both the Brack Pelton and the Blu Carraway Mystery Series. Having lived in Charleston on Sullivan’s Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife call South Carolina home.