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Saturday, 4 February 2017

☀ Concrete Smile - Bernard Maestas

Following our Release Celebrations in December 2016, welcome back for the Virtual Book Tour for Concrete Smile, a Crime Thriller by (, Rebel ePublishers, 324 pages).

Don't miss our Guest Post by author Bernard Maestas.

PREVIEW: Check out the book's synopsis and the excerpt below.

Author Bernard Maestas will be awarding an autographed paperback copy , and two eBook copies 
of Concrete Smile by to randomly drawn winners via Rafflecopter during the tour.    

|| Synopsis || Teaser: Excerpt || Author Guest Post || About the Author || Giveaway & Tour Stops ||

Synopsis

Someone wants a war. Someone has taken a match to the criminal underbelly of Newport City and turned its factions against each other. The city's only hope lies in the hands of an unlikely trio.

Freelance information broker Kevin Wyatt, hired by a major gang leader, takes the case with the help of his ex-enforcer brother Chance McKaegan -- fresh out of prison.


They are joined by Kaitlynn Lockhart, a journalist with a vendetta, driven by the crossfire murder of her boyfriend. Together, they must scour the city's darkest corners to expose a conspiracy more sinister than any of them can imagine.

Teaser: Excerpt

“Everyone’s a gangster until it’s time to do gangster shit.”-Anonymous

CHAPTER ONE
BUSINESS HOURS


Lost somewhere in Newport City’s densely crowded, late-night skyline, six bulky bodies packed into some unimportant restaurant’s musty storeroom.
      Bulging with prison muscles and bulletproof vests, their dark skin branded with black tattoos broadcasting their gang affiliation, the men were silent. They crowded around a single rickety card table, the room’s only furniture, and toiled under the dim glow of a single yellow bulb dangling from the ceiling. A masonry bucket full of glittering brass ammunition sat centered between them. None spoke. The rhythmic clicking of guns and bullets was the only soundtrack accompanying the tension.
      Aside from their silence and the grim, practiced precision with which they pressed the unstamped cartridges into their magazines, they each had one other detail in common: Each man, whether dangling from a pocket, knotted around a wrist, or cinched across his brow, displayed a deep crimson bandana. That bandana, the gang flag of The Reds or Red Nation – the umbrella under which all the African-American gangs in Newport City fell – was the most crucial accessory.
      Durel Rivers, better known as Bones, set aside his last loaded magazine and grabbed his weapon. Exceedingly illegal, the fully automatic Tec-9 machine pistol, with its taped grip and folding stock, actually had a Federal law banning it by name. A loud slap cut the stifling air as he locked a magazine into the receiver and jacked the first round into the chamber.
      Bones covered his body armor with a baggy sweatshirt, loose enough to conceal the illicit firearm beneath it, its papoose pocket stuffed with the ready reloads he’d prepared. Behind him, the rest of his crew wrapped up their own loading tasks, donned jackets and hoodies of their own and then followed him out of the storeroom.
      The creaky storeroom door swung open into the deep gloom of a deserted kitchen. The restaurant’s legitimate business hours long over, the white-coated cooks and staffers long gone, Bones and his crew had special access. He led them past the stainless steel appliances and shelves to and then through the back door.
      Windows down, keys in the ignitions, a pair of black SUVs waited in the greasy shadows of the narrow alley behind the restaurant. Bones climbed into the shotgun seat of the leading truck while the rest of the crew split up between them, wordlessly sliding into their plush leather seats.
      Bones gave a simple and wordless nod to the man who took the driver’s seat beside him. Engines came to life with deep rumbles but the music that came on in the cabins was low. They were on a mission and there would be no distractions.
      As one, the pair of SUVs rolled out of the alley and onto the darkened Newport City streets. While the bustling city of nearly five million had plenty of nightlife, Bones’ crew stuck to the quiet streets of closed businesses, darkened storefronts, and slumbering apartment dwellers. It was late, or more precisely, early in the morning, and only the creatures of the night were out haunting the streets. Moving patiently, always five miles per hour over the speed limit – no more, no less – they rolled to their first stop at the fringe of a housing project complex, a U-shaped cluster of old tenement towers.
      Silent and pensive, Bones scanned every inch of the block around them, scrutinizing each of the people who made up the sparse nighttime populace. A pair of teenagers with Reds’ flags on display occupied one corner while a homeless man wandered the block further down.
      No police, no “jackers,” Bones was as certain as he could be of that. He twisted in his seat and said it all to the gangster in the back with another wordless nod.
      The back door popped, as did that of the trailing SUV, two men emerging into the street and crossing, their hands beneath their shirts and gripping the handles of their guns. As they disappeared into one of the building lobbies, Bones let his attention slip for just a moment. He plucked a cigarette from his pack, set it between his lips, bringing it to life with the click of his lighter, and blew the fumes from his nose.
      He had only taken two deep drags when the gangbangers emerged. The one from the trailing truck led the way, alert and ready. The man behind had a small gym bag slung over his shoulder. Bones turned to look as the man climbed back aboard the SUV.
      “All there,” he said simply, ripping open the zipper to give Bones a look inside at the bricklike bundles of cash.
      Bones straightened in his seat, his cigarette hand pushing out through the open window and waving the trailing SUV forward. Together, they pulled away from the curb and rolled off into the city.
      It was after three when they finally pulled away from their last pickup in East Charity, a sleepy neighborhood on the southeastern side of the City’s eastern borough. Bones lit up a third cigarette and then threw a glance into the backseat. Aside from the burly gangster riding with them, more of those bulging bags of cash now packed the seat to shoulder height. Over the last hour and change, they had stopped everywhere from drug dens to basement casinos, collecting the week’s deposits.
      With the trucks laden with money, the first half of the job, in some ways the easy half, was done.
      Alert, mind focused, Bones allowed himself to relax just a little, let the flood of nicotine calm his blood slightly. From here on, it was a straight drive to their final destination where they would turn over the money to be cleaned. No more stops, no more tense minutes of waiting on the street like sitting ducks. That said, he also knew that the best time to hit the convoy would be now, when it was flush and the crew had backed off the razor’s edge of their nerves.
      The bold glow of their headlights swung down a street heavy with shadows, most of the streetlights out except for some pale yellow ones at the far end. Bones’ hackles came up and he was just about to order them off the street when shrieking tires sang their discordant chorus into the night as something flashed out of the driveway ahead. No headlights had offered any warning.
      “Shit!” Bones’ driver seethed as he stood on the brakes, grinding them to a hard halt.
      In the glare of their SUV’s headlights, Bones now made out the form of the battered minivan that had darted across their path and stopped. He was already pulling his Tec-9 from beneath his shirt when the van’s sliding door scraped aside with a raspy grind of worn metal.
      Crouched tightly in the back of the van, shoulder-to-shoulder, a pair of masked men took aim and opened up torrents of fully automatic gunfire.
      The driver beside Bones jerked and flopped violently, his body riddled with relentless fire. Bones himself managed to duck down below the dash, behind the protection of the engine block, the only part of a normal car that would actually stop a bullet. Jagged pebbles of shattered glass rained down on the back of his neck.
      Behind Bones, the back door kicked open and the armed gangster ducked out as he sprayed the van with his own vicious rake of fire.
      Without rising from behind the dash, Bones reached out, shoving open the driver’s door and rolling the bloody, shredded corpse of the driver into the street. He was halfway over the center console when he saw his doom.
      From behind the row of parallel-parked cars lining the far side of the street, cloaked in the heavy shadows, more gunmen popped up, bracing and steadying their rifles on the hoods, trunks or roofs of the parked cars. Bones threw his machine pistol into line but it was too late.
      The last thing Bones ever saw was the hellish strobes of the muzzle flashes popping in the darkness as they poured another withering hailstorm of copper-jacketed death into the street.
      ***
Don’t shit where you eat. Words to live by in Kevin Wyatt’s book. So, even at three in the morning, making the drive across the Admiralty Bridge into the peninsular eastern borough was just smart business. Polished black paint gleaming, throaty engine growling melodically, Kevin’s ’67 Mustang fastback made short work of the trip, weaving only occasionally around slower moving traffic.
      An oasis in the night of closed businesses on an otherwise nondescript street in East Charity, a brightly lit parking lot snipped off the corner of the block. It wrapped around two sides of a large diner that, despite its size and popularity with the late-night crowd that knew of its existence, still looked like a greasy hole in the wall.
      Kevin had grown fond of the place, though. Referring to it as his office, he conducted those meetings there that required a certain degree of public exposure mixed with only a modicum of privacy. He’d chosen the spot for the food initially and had quickly adopted it as a regular haunt. Despite this, no one greeted him by name as he entered and left the biting air of the early November chill in the parking lot.
      The diner was warm inside, full of the aroma of food frying in grease. At least a half-dozen parties of three or four twentysomethings in nightclub attire were scattered among the booths and tables. His regular booth, the one at the far back corner, just on the fringe of the last overhead bulb’s halo of light, was unclaimed, he noted with a smile.
      Kevin took another moment to scan the diner’s patrons and confirm that his clients hadn’t arrived yet. He pivoted and swung down the row of booths running along the diner’s storefront of greasy picture windows. As he went, he sloughed his black leather jacket, a dark T-shirt with a stylish designer logo beneath.
      Though he could have melded into one of the packs of club goers in the diner with his age and good looks, he wasn’t here to socialize. He had a narrow face of mildly chiseled features decorated with a light dusting of freckles that went appropriately with the rusty copper color of his short hair. He was above average height at just under six feet, but his fit and trim frame was not particularly remarkable.
      A waitress, mopping the countertop with a rag, glanced up as he passed her. She made contact with his bright hazel gaze and a faint smile of passing recognition turned up the corners of her mouth. “The usual?” she asked, getting a nod and a smile in reply.
      Kevin dropped into his booth’s far side, his back to the wall, his face to the door, and slid into the corner. It was a good spot, behind the wall and out of the frame of the big window while still giving him an excellent line of sight into the parking lot and the establishment.
      Kevin scanned with intent while taking care to seem oblivious, just another late night customer out for a midnight snack. A nondescript sedan, gray, neither old nor new enough to be noteworthy, coasted to a halt outside. Three young men, cautious and patiently panning their gazes over every angle of surrounding night, sat in the car for a few long moments before dismounting and approaching the diner door.
      The waitress returned and slid Kevin’s order in front of him just as the trio filed through the front door. She turned and left the table while he raised an arm, brushed with a sleeve of freckles, and waved them over.
      In a moment’s pause of prudent appraisal, they sized Kevin up from the door before sliding down the row. They were dressed to slip under notice, plain jeans and plainer hooded sweatshirts, but that didn’t fool Kevin for a second.
      “You the guy?” the first, a deeply tanned Hispanic in his late twenties, asked with no discernable accent.
      “I am,” Kevin confirmed with a nod. “Have a seat.”
      “How’d you know it was us?” asked the second, a black man of the same age as the first, as the whole trio – rounded out with a smaller and younger Asian man for diversity – took the opposite side of the booth.
      “Lucky guess,” Kevin replied plainly. He lifted his steaming cup of black coffee and nursed a sip, careful to keep his eyes above the rim to watch the three of them. “You have something for me?” He set the cup beside the plate holding his so far untouched “Heartstopper” sandwich.
      The trio exchanged glances before the leader threw one back over his shoulder at the rest of the diner. Kevin didn’t have to look so obviously to know no one was paying them any mind. Satisfied, the leader nodded at the Asian at the end of the booth. He slipped an envelope from the papoose pocket of his sweatshirt, laid it on the table and slid it across.
      Kevin took the envelope and peeled it open in his lap, leafing through its stack of crisp twenty-dollar bills. He kept his poker face firmly in place as he did, lifting his head to nod to his clients in approval. He reached across the booth, stuffing the envelope into the inner pocket of his jacket and slipping out a coin-sized SD card. He slid it across the table the same way he’d received his payment.
      The Asian man took it, plugging it into a small tablet and scanning through it.
      “As promised,” Kevin said, his focus on the leader. “Truck routes, communications protocols and duty rosters for Allied Armored Couriers. Good until the end of the month.”
      The leader looked from Kevin as he finished, to the Asian, who had completed his scan and nodded. Kevin scooped up his mug and took another sip of his coffee, watching as the leader turned back to him.
      “How’d you get this?”
      Kevin smiled a thin smile that didn’t reach his eyes as he lowered the mug. He offered his hand across the table for a shake. “A pleasure doing business with you.”
      The leader’s eyes narrowed, but he clasped Kevin’s hand in a brief squeeze before he and his crew exited the booth. He watched them leave, as did the waitress, who glanced over at him and met his eyes. This time, his smile was a little warmer as he offered her a shrug and dropped his attention to his plate.
      ***
The Heartstopper was an egg sandwich, in simplest terms. To be more exact, however, it was a heaping serving of scrambled whole eggs capped with a slice of full-fat American cheese and enclosed in two slices of grilled and buttery bread. It was decadently delicious and so worth the bloated feeling in Kevin’s gut as he left his booth, leaving cash, including a generous tip, on the table top and exited the diner.
      He mounted up the Mustang, kicking it to grumbling life, and swung out of the parking lot, aiming for home. Business for the night finished, it was late and, crucially, he had a very early and very important errand awaiting him in the morning.
      Blue and red strobes blazed through the Mustang’s rear windshield as the howl of a siren drowned out even the healthy rumble of his powerful engine. Kevin’s heart nearly stopped as his eyes flicked to the rearview mirror framing the police sedan rushing up on his bumper.
      “Fuck me,” he breathed, hands tightening around the wheel. For half a second, he considered running. Lean fingers coiled around the shifter, his dress boots settled over the pedals, and Kevin sketched out a plan for his flight for freedom. It started with a downshift and a ferocious bellow of acceleration but he had no idea where it went from there. Instead, he reminded himself he wasn’t carrying anything illegal, nor did he have any warrants out for him. At least, as far as he knew. Easing toward the first gap in the row of cars lining the curb, Kevin blinked as the patrol car blew past him.
      Before he had a chance to relax, crack a smile of relief, three more cops in roaring sedans, their emergency lights screaming their urgency, sirens wailing, blasted down the road. They were moving fast, fast enough that their passing rocked Kevin’s heavy car as they went.
      Kevin stared after them as they faded into the distance before whipping around the corner at the end of the next block. His hands squeezed the wheel tightly and his mind reached, pondering the possibilities. Slowly, his thin lips spread in a smile.
      Something big had happened. He had a pleasant influx of new business to look forward to.
     

CHAPTER TWO
THE MORNING AFTER


The medical assistant peeled back the thin white sheet with care and, at the first flash of familiar skin, Kaity choked on her raw and painful gasp.
      “Yes,” she said in a hoarse whisper, almost inaudible, adding an almost imperceptible nod. Though his typically animated face and warm, honey-kissed tan was replaced with a grim, lifeless, and expressionless mask of ashen skin, she recognized Kyle as soon as the sheet left his face.
      “I’m sorry,” the assistant said. “But we need to be sure. Can you identify this as the body of Kyle Ember?”
      Her knees, already quivering, threatened to cut out from beneath her altogether upon hearing his name. “Yes,” she whispered again. “That’s him.”
      “Thank you, Miss Lockhart.”
      He started to fold the sheet back up over Kyle’s face when Kaity intervened. “Can I …?” She trailed off, not sure what she wanted to ask. “Can I have a moment?”
      “Certainly.” The assistant gave her a faint, sympathetic smile before retreating from the room. She listened to the assistant’s feet depart behind her, somehow holding herself together until she heard them shuffle out the door, leaving her alone. And indeed, she felt very alone. Her legs, at last, gave out beneath her and she caught herself on the cold edge of the stainless steel table. Bowing her head, her forehead kissing the cool metal of the table, she held on for all she was worth. A few moments later, she clawed her way back up to set her eyes on Kyle’s face.
      The sobs hit her hard, each one racking her body and wrenching her gut, but she held them in. Hot tears scorched her eyes as her fingers knotted into fists full of the thin sheet covering her love’s body.
      Kaity brushed the back of her dainty hand along Kyle’s cheek, feeling the horrifying cold of his skin. Then the tears came, gushing from her pretty blue eyes. She squeezed them shut, but could not stop their flow.
      Minutes passed, feeling like hours. Nothing lasts forever, as she had learned in the hardest, cruelest way. Forcing herself, she unclenched her lids and wiped the tears from pale cheeks and raw eyes. Her red, swollen nose sniffled as she wiped the back of a hand under it. Put back together as best as she could manage at the moment, she was sure she still looked a mess. She didn’t care.
      Wordlessly, she bent forward, leaning over the table to press one final kiss to Kyle’s forehead. She had no words, didn't trust her voice, and knew there was no one to hear her anyway. She turned from the table and staggered out of the room on trembling legs.
      ***
Nestled among a forest of glittering skyscrapers in downtown Newport City, the Port Authority hub sprawled over two square blocks, not counting the massive patch of blacktop parking lot across the street. It rose, high and mighty, over the surrounding streets with ornate spires at the corners. The roof sloped away from the base of a massive clock tower looming over all.
      The Port Authority was Newport City’s main hub, the terminal point for the Amtrak arteries that flowed into and out of the city, the cross country bus lines, and the city’s own metropolitan bus and trolley system.
      Despite a golden midmorning sun just beginning to peek over the tops of the buildings to pour its bright rays into the streets, the nip of the breeze on the tip of Kevin’s straight, perfect nose was chilly. His fashionable black leather jacket warded off any further chill as he lounged against the Mustang’s glossy black fender. Aviator sunglasses with silver frames that caught and sparkled in the sunlight held all but opaque black lenses in front of his eyes, warding off the harshest of the sun’s glare.
      Kevin had pulled into the parking lot across the street a half an hour early for this mission. He waited now, watching the crowd’s steady flow streaming out the Port Authority’s myriad doors. Typically punctual ‒ and fifteen minutes early was late to him ‒ Kevin had allowed even more time this morning. He hadn’t wanted to risk it. Not today.
      Kevin kept his smile in check, much as it wanted to break out on his face, when he caught sight of the familiar figure standing out in the current of the crowd.
      At six-three, Chance McKaegan would have stood out anyway, for Kevin though it was more striking. The last time they’d seen each other, it was Kevin looking down at the younger Chance.
      Chance had always been muscular, but two years in military school with little to do but train for his increased commitment to football had been kind to him. At over two hundred pounds, he swelled to fill what should have been a baggy black hoodie that instead flowed in a flattering way over the meaty slabs of his chest and the hardy slopes of his shoulders.
      He had somehow managed to let his hair grow out, the raven feather locks spilling down to his tapered jawline and framing his pale, but oddly classical features. His good looks were iced with a set of stunning aquamarine eyes left unshielded. He didn’t have sunglasses to slip on.
      Bulging with his every worldly possession, the duffel bag burdening Chance’s sturdy right shoulder was standard military olive drab and reached nearly to the back of his knee. Despite its bulk, it scarcely seemed to encumber him as he crossed the street towards the parking lot in a tall and confident march.
      Spotting Kevin in the field of parked cars and the sparse gathering of people, Chance had no qualms about letting a bold grin crack and peel his slim but kissable lips. He picked up the pace, stepping more lively as he weaved between a row of cars. That gave Kevin his first look at Chance’s weathered jeans and a pair of sneakers long overdue for retirement.
      He’d have to do something about that.
      Kevin pushed away from the Mustang’s fender as Chance stopped in front of him and dropped his bag to the pavement at his heel. Silence stretched between them just long enough for a twinge of awkwardness to strike Chance and that’s when Kevin broke the silence.
      “You got uglier.” Kevin still didn’t crack a smile as he spoke.
      Chance’s grin remained implacable as he reached out to pat a condescending hand on top of Kevin’s short, rusty hair. “You stopped growing.” Kevin smacked the hand away but found he couldn’t ward off the grin that shattered the blank mask of his poker face. They clapped hands warmly, squeezing for a long moment before both got over themselves and drew the other in for a tight, back-slapping hug.
      “Alright, enough,” Chance joked with a laugh as he playfully shoved Kevin away. “Get off of me, homo.”
      “You only wish that were true. Come on, let’s get out of here.” Kevin circled to the back of the car and popped the trunk as he continued. “This place smells like piss and onions.”
      “Smells like Newport City,” Chance corrected as he hefted his bag and rolled it into the trunk like a dead body. “Home sweet home.”
      Kevin started up the car as they dropped into the deep padding of the leather bucket seats and they pulled out. Chance craned his neck to look around at the flawless interior and ran his hands along the supple leather panels.
      “This is sweet,” Chance said after whistling in admiration. “Fully restored?”
      “Only on the surface. Everything underneath is improved. The radio is a façade hiding a full Bluetooth receiver and head,” he began with a sweep of his hand after shifting gears. “Riding on a performance suspension and the shifter’s a six-speed running to a fully built 429 crate motor.”
      Chance blinked. “That’s a lot of cheddar.”
      Kevin smirked, knowingly, but shrugged. “Business is good.”
      It wasn’t just business, of course, they both knew that. They both also knew, however, that Kevin had been pulling in a healthy income of his own since before Chance went away.
      The drive to Kevin’s apartment was short, only the clogs of traffic stretching it for long enough to chat. Home was just shy of the border to Chinatown, where the downtown towers began to shrink closer to the streets along with the property values. Still, it was an admirably upscale condo with far more space than Kevin needed alone.
      “Oh, by the way, check the glove box,” Kevin said. “Got you a few essentials.”
      Chance obeyed and found a pair of black, Oakley sunglasses, a more sporty variety than Kevin’s, sitting next to a new cellphone and a small, tight roll of cash. He glanced over to the driver’s seat before picking up the items and turning them over in his hands, finding he had to stare down into them as he searched for the words. “I really appreciate you doing this,” Chance finally said, quietly, humbled by the sentiment.
      “Of course,” Kevin replied, his smile genuine. “You’re the brother I like.”
      Still silent, Chance busied himself tucking the phone and money in his mostly empty pockets. He then made a point of pushing the sunglasses in front of his eyes to cover the naked emotion in them. Meanwhile, Kevin swooped around a slow moving car and they roared down the road.
      Kevin picked up the slack in the conversation. “Sarah wanted to be here, too. She’s got another month or so left in the semester, though, so I sort of told her to stay.”
      Chance nodded. “Yeah, I talked to her last week. I told her to stay, too.”
      “She’s going to love your pretty hair.” Kevin grinned and snickered.
      From there, the conversation brightened as they rumbled through the streets. They prattled on jovially as if they hadn’t lost two years. Really, they hadn’t. Letters, phone calls, even the internet kept them in touch as Chance earned the privileges.
      A pall of reality fell over the bright reunion chatter. Each had spent enough time on the streets to sharpen his instincts to keen razors. So, as they passed a hulking black SUV, idling beside the dip in the curb which fed Kevin’s apartment’s parking garage, they clocked the gangbanger driver as trouble immediately.
      Kevin calmly rolled them into and across the parking lot. They spotted the second muscular thug, lurking outside the locked lobby door a second later. This time, they noted the Red flag lolling from the front pocket of his baggy jeans.
      “They here for you or me?” Chance asked as Kevin eased the rumbling Mustang into his stall.
      “No clue. You want to take off for a bit, see if they leave?”
      “Nah,” Chance replied, already popping the door and swinging a leg out. “Let’s just get this over with.”
      ***
      By the time the two met at the back of the car, the driver of the SUV had dismounted. He strode into the parking lot with intent and purpose, his eyes fixed solidly on the pair, his hands empty at his sides. But both knew that didn’t mean he wasn’t carrying a weapon.
      Kevin and Chance turned, forgetting the latter’s duffel bag for the time being, and headed for the front door. The man waiting there stepped away from the wall and walked towards them with the same purposeful stride as the one behind them.
      “I’ll take this guy, you take the one in back?” Chance suggested.
      “Works for me,” Kevin agreed. He whirled away from Chance’s shoulder, keys jingling in his hand, and stepped out to intercept the gangbanger behind them.
      Chance pushed forward, his hand dipping into his pocket and slipping out a small black cylinder. Recognition slapped the gangbanger’s face and he thrust his hand into his waistband, presumably to draw his gun, but Chance was on him too fast. The latter lunged ahead, clearing the gap between them in two powerful, bounding strides. He threw his arm to the side as he went, clicking open the black steel baton.
      Across the lot, Kevin stopped a few paces back from the other gangster, holding out a warding palm to match the disarming smile on his face, as if he wanted a second to try to reason with the man. What he really wanted was the distraction it bought him.
      Flashing his hand up, keychain clutched in his grasp, Kevin squeezed the trigger and sent a clear stream of fluid streaking out. He slashed it back and forth across the man’s eyes, then in a slash over his nose and mouth. Instantly, the man stopped, then whipped his head like a drenched dog, flicking a shower of excess fluid from his face. Then came the scream as the excoriating effects of the pepper spray kicked in.
      “Yeah,” Kevin agreed with the man’s cry. “This shit burns, huh? Feels like your skin is melting straight off the bone, right?” He clucked his tongue in mock sympathy. “Sucks to be you …”
      Meanwhile, Chance crossed his arm over his chest and sliced the baton through the air in a vicious backhand stroke just as the black pistol made its first appearance. The blow struck the gangster in the middle of the forearm, right on the nerve Chance had been aiming for. It numbed the arm, caused the gangster to fumble his grip on the gun that clattered to the pavement below.
      Stepping to the side and into a rapid twirl, Chance built up power for the next strike. He whipped around and swung low into the back of the gangster’s knee, cutting his legs out from under him and sending him flopping to his back, his legs flailing in the air.
      Dazed, the air blasting from his lungs in a painful gasp, the gangster looked upwards in time to see Chance descending. He brought the bottom of his fist and more importantly, the butt end of the baton, down hard, smashing man’s nose and dropping him flat on his back.
      “Enough!” Raspy and hard, the boom of the voice filled the parking lot, filled the entire street it seemed. It got everyone’s attention. The pained moans of the two gangsters quieted as Chance and Kevin stopped in their tracks and searched the lot for the source.
      The source of the voice rolled into the parking lot with the quiet ease of well-oiled wheels. Although seated in the wheelchair, his presence was massive, as if he loomed over the brothers anyway. His bulk – made up of more than enough muscle to be terribly impressive – required a customized chair to fit him and to support his weight, but both Kevin and Chance knew that the man in it could more than afford that. His dark features were hard, despite the roundness of his face, and a grayish scar slashed across his face from the corner of his forehead to the edge of his jaw, running over his nose.
      “Oh, shit,” Chance managed breathlessly as he gaped at the figure in the chair.
      “What, uh …” Kevin stumbled uncharacteristically as he stared at the wheelchair-bound man. “What can I do for you?”
      “You know who I am?” It was only half a question as he looked Kevin over with hard brown eyes.
      “Of course.”
      “Good,” King Jamal said with a curt nod. “Let’s go inside. We need to have some words.”

Concrete Smile
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About the Author

Bernard Maestas lives in paradise. A police officer patrolling the mean streets of Hawaii, he has a background in contract security and military and civilian law enforcement.

When not saving the world, one speeding ticket at a time, and not distracted by video games or the internet, he is usually hard at work on his next book.

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