The Story Behind Southern Heat
What inspired me to write Southern Heat was really a collection of details. I lived in Charleston on Sullivan’s Island for almost five years. That alone gave me the setting. My landlord had a large second row house with apartments on the back side. Second row, for those who don’t know, and I didn’t until I lived there, means the house was in a line of homes across the street from the beach front homes. He gave his tenants a lot of liberties, including allowing us to head to the unoccupied second floor with an ocean view patio. In Charleston, homes built after hurricane Hugo had to be elevated. The ground level was a concrete slab that a lot of people turned into an above ground basement. The first floor was really the second floor and the second floor was really the third floor. Confused yet? So, the house was really three levels. One fourth of July, I climbed onto the roof and had a 360 degree view of the Charleston harbor and fireworks in at least five different directions.
Why did I spend so much time talking about the house? Because I learned the island way of life there—laid back. The first rule, and there weren’t really many others, was when you crossed the Ben Sawyer Memorial Bridge onto the island, your problems stayed on the mainland.
The city of Charleston is such a gem. It is like no place on earth, with its palmetto tree lined Meeting Street, premier shops on King Street, and historic homes on the Battery. As a single man at the time, I also enjoyed the night scene. Great bars and clubs within close proximity meant my friends and I could walk and hit three different locations on a Friday night.
I tried to capture the healing magic of the city in my book. Just as I am not the same person I was when I first moved there, I wanted my protagonist to be changed. Brack Pelton came into being after several failed attempts, the first being a close carbon copy of Mike Hammer with an office on King Street. That character and the next one didn’t ring true, and members of the South Carolina Writers Workshop critique group I belong to let me know as much.
I wish I could stay the story just wrote itself, but that would be a false statement. It took a lot of rewriting, and I mean a lot. I heard that Robert B. Parker could write a first draft and only have to change a few words to make it his final. Well, I am not Robert B. Parker. And my first manuscript took six drafts. Writing is work. Fun work, but work nonetheless.
What motivated me to finally put fingers to the keyboard was a feeling that I had for most of my twenties that I was wasting time. I’d come home from work and park in front of the TV for hours. Looking back, the shows I watched helped develop my imagination, but I knew I was frying my brain. My soon-to-be wife could tell I was unhappy and urged me to find my passion. As I was walking back from the exercise room in the apartment complex I was living in at the time, it hit me that I wanted to write a novel. I’d always liked writing. The “mistake” I made was mentioning this to my fiancé. Once we were married and living under the same roof, she took every opportunity to remind me what I told her I wanted to do. Six years later, I had a contract for Southern Heat and I owe a lot to her.
Title: Southern Heat
Author: David Burnsworth
Publisher: Five Star/Gale
Genre: Southern Noir/Mystery
Format: Paperback & eBook
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Gunshots echo down an antebellum
alley. Brack Pelton, an ex-racecar
driver and Afghanistan War veteran, witnesses the murder of his uncle, Reggie
Sails. Darcy Wells, the pretty Palmetto Pulse reporter, investigates Reggie's
murder and targets Brack. Charleston
The sole heir of his uncle's estate, Brack receives a rundown bar called the Pirate's Cove, a rotting beach house, and one hundred acres of preserved and valuable wetland along the
A member of Ashley River 's
wealthiest and oldest families offers Brack four million dollars for the land.
All Brack wants is his uncle's killer. Charleston
From the sandy beaches of Isle of Palms, through the nineteenth-century mansions lining the historic
to the marshlands surrounding the county, Southern Heat is drenched in the
humidity of the lowcountry.
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“A man doesn’t have the right to avoid reaping what he sows.”
Saturday night in the holy city of
S.C., it was easier to find a cheap motel on the Charleston Battery
than a parking space near the Market. Especially in July. I bounced over
century-old bricks, made a big U on Meeting
Street, and headed back.
My uncle wanted to meet for dinner, and I was late.
Three blocks over, a spot opened up on
Street and I shoehorned my Mustang in. A birthday
present to myself, the car had a screaming V-8, chrome wheels, and black paint.
Its finish reflected the glow of the gaslights. I hadn’t needed a new car. What
I needed was something besides my dog to make me smile, and I was tired of
double-shots of Beam.
To save a few steps, I cut down a darkened alley. A quick flash and a loud pop echoed off the surrounding walls. I hit the deck, rolled behind a dumpster, and reached for my Berretta. It hadn’t been there in six months and wasn’t now. The aroma of spoiled seafood from the garbage hit me harder than a bullet.
A voice in the alley shouted like my drill sergeant in boot camp. “Give me an answer!”
My eyes adjusted to the dim light. I peered around a corner of the dumpster. A figure knelt over a body. To get a better view, I stood. My foot hit an empty bottle. It clanged across the cobblestones of the alley. The kneeling man raised his arm. The silhouette of a gun aimed in my direction. I dove back behind the dumpster. He fired. The bullet ricocheted off the steel frame. I needed an exit strategy.
Receding footsteps of someone running echoed in the alley. After a moment all I heard was labored breathing and eased from my hiding spot. The figure with the gun was gone. The body on the ground wheezed. I got to my feet, hurried over to help, and found my uncle staring up at me with his one good eye, the other having been lost in
and now covered with an eye patch. Vietnam
“Uncle Reggie!” I fell to my knees.
Blood trickled from his mouth as he said my name, “Brack.” His voice was rough and muffled by the liquid filling his lungs.
Grabbing my phone, I punched nine-one-one.
“Brack,” he whispered, and his uncovered eye closed.
The emergency line rang in my ear.
“I’m calling for an ambulance,” I said.
“Ray.” He coughed. “Ray shot me.”
I let the phone drop a few inches. “Who’s Ray?”
He swallowed hard.
A tinny female voice interrupted, “Nine-one-one. What’s your emergency?”
The life went out of Uncle Reggie and I placed two fingers on his neck.
“Sir,” said the operator. “What’s your emergency?”
“My uncle’s been shot. We’re in Simmons Alley.” I placed the phone on the ground next to me, raised my uncle’s chin, and gave him CPR.
In the middle of my second round of chest compressions, the howling intake noise and moaning exhaust of a car engine at full throttle made me look up. Flashing lights bounced off the dumpsters and trash lining the alley.
A patrol car headed for me, and I jerked my hands up in reaction. It skidded to a stop a few yards away. Doors swung open in unison. Two men stepped out and trained their weapons on me. “Police! Freeze!”
One of them moved out of my line of vision.
“He’s not breathing,” I said.
The officer by the cruiser said, “Get your hands up!”
Patience left me. “He’s been shot! Make yourself useful and call an ambulance.”
“Get down!” screamed a voice behind me. A hard shove made me hit the ground face first next to my uncle. The officer jammed his knee into my back, frisked, and cuffed me.
I spit blood and dirt and tried to take a breath. “He’s my uncle. Help him!”
The second officer knelt beside Uncle Reggie and checked for a pulse like I did. “He’s gone.”
It took both cops to lift all six-foot, two-hundred-and-ten pounds of me off the ground. I grunted at the strain on my joints from the handcuffs. They placed me in the back seat of a cruiser and shut the door. One of them rattled off something on the radio. I ran my tongue over a split in the middle of my lower lip. Blood on the front of my white T-shirt mixed with three-century-old soot from the cobblestones. Ten feet away my only family and best friend lay dead. I shook my head in disbelief. The moon cast everything in electric blue.
More vehicles showed up and the area erupted in activity. Gray uniforms and white-jacketed technicians crowded into the narrow passage between the old brick buildings. Cameras flashed. Two suits got out of an unmarked Crown Vic. One knelt beside my uncle. The other spoke with one of the uniforms, both of them glancing at me several times. After a few minutes, the suits teamed up and came at me like two sand crabs ready to make a meal out of a fish carcass washed up on the beach. I saw my wallet in one of the crab’s claws and realized it was no longer in my back pocket.
The first one to the cruiser’s door was slim and tall with stiff creases in his slacks and shirt. A silver Rolex flashed on his wrist. The second man, half a step behind, had a stocky build. His loosened tie exposed an unbuttoned collar. Both wore short sleeves, a necessity in the sweltering lowcountry.
The stiff-creased crab opened the door. “Brack Pelton?”
“I’m Detective Rogers.” He pulled out a notepad and pen. “This is Sergeant Wilson. We’re with Charleston P.D. and need to go over a few things with you.” He looked at my face. “I see you’re injured. We’ll get someone to check you out in a minute.”
“Thanks.” I didn’t feel the pain.
paused. “Can I call you Brack?” Rogers
I grinned to show off my busted mouth. “Sure.”
“How did that happen, Brack?”
I gritted my teeth, knowing it wouldn’t do me or my uncle any good to get on the bad side of the police. “I must have fallen. The officers were kind enough to help me up.”
for the first time. “Good answer.” Wilson
“I was supposed to meet him at High Cotton.”
“We can’t seem to find any identification,” said
. “Can you give us his name?” Wilson
“Reggie—Reginald Sails.” I spelled the last name.
down. “Did he say anything before he died?” Rogers
I nodded. “He said Ray shot him.”
Rogers and Wilson looked at each other.
“Did he say it exactly like that?”
asked. “We need to know, word for word.” Wilson
The cuffs dug into my wrists. I eased forward and exhaled. “He said ‘Ray shot me.’ I asked him who Ray was but he didn’t answer.”
“No. He owns a run-down dive on the Isle of Palms and spends his free time surfing.”
“The Pirate’s Cove.” It was the only real dive left on the island.
eyes focused on something past me, as if he was thinking. Wilson
I choked and cleared my throat. “No kidding.”
“My nephews love the place,”
said. “All the pirate stuff and that big red and blue bird.” Wilson
“Macaw,” I said.
watched me. “What were you guys doing in this alley?” Wilson
“I couldn’t find a parking spot close to High Cotton and ended up on Chalmers. I was late and turned through here to save time and that’s when he was shot.”
“Already in the alley.”
“No. Like I said, I was on my way to meet him.”
Without looking up,
made another notation. “You see who shot him?” Rogers
“Can’t tell you what he looks like. Maybe six feet and fairly stout.”
Both detectives sized me up.
said, “That could describe you.” Rogers
I stood, forcing them to back up. “Look, you think I did it? Test me for gunshot residue. Otherwise, get these cuffs off me and go find who killed my uncle.”
raised his hands in a calming gesture. “No one’s accusing anyone of anything.” Wilson
“At this point,”
Murder in the tourist district was rare in
and the TV news got wind of the shooting. Vans from three networks arrived from
the opposite end of the street and set up camp. Their lights added to the
intensity of the illumination used by the police and transformed the alley into
a morbid scene from High Noon. Cameramen floated around along with reporters
clutching microphones. Released from the confines of the cruiser’s backseat, I
sat on the rear chrome step-bumper of an ambulance within the safety of the
police barrier. The detectives kept me company until the paramedics finished
cleaning my face. Charleston
“We’ll need your T-shirt. For evidence.” Rogers
I peeled off my shirt and threw it to him. “Take it.”
“Don’t worry. You’re going to hear a lot from me.” I pocketed the card, slipped on the shirt, and walked through the alley to my car. At the police barricade, I found a spot with the fewest people loitering about and tried to cross the line.
A woman holding a microphone cut me off. “Are you involved in the police investigation?”
I was ready to brush past her when a cameraman approached, flipped on the lights above the camera and proceeded to film us. The woman stepped into the brightness and I caught a glimpse of my late wife, Jo, in the reporter’s blond curls and pretty face. The momentary image of her almost made my knees buckle.
The reporter shifted on her feet, stood in front of me, and spoke into her microphone. “Darcy Wells, Channel Nine News. Are you with the police?”
She moved the microphone from her mouth to my face, but I said nothing. Channel Nine was supposed to mean something to me, I was sure, but all I could think about at the moment were the words I had wanted to say to Jo but didn’t.
Darcy Wells aimed the microphone back at her mouth. “Can you tell us what’s going on?” Her eyes did a good job of pleading as she stuck the microphone in my face for the second time.
I spit a glob of blood on the ground away from her, trying to get the taste out of my mouth, and didn’t care it was on film. My forehead beaded with sweat from the sultry night air. “My uncle was killed tonight in this alley.”
Detectives Rogers and Wilson pushed through the crowd and stood in my line of sight but out of view of the camera.
She said, “Did you see the killer? Was there more than one? Who was your uncle?”
I pointed to the investigating officers. “Ask those guys.”
When her attention went to them, I stepped away. I heard her call, “Hey, wait!” But I turned the corner and hurried to my car, hoping the double-parked news trucks hadn’t blocked me in.
The Mustang had just enough room to squeeze out.
Death followed me like a hungry predator. I’d seen enough of it, caused enough of it, and hadn’t planned on seeing any more for a while. Not like that. Not Uncle Reggie. I had to do something or I’d go nuts. The only place that might have some answers was the same place the police would be headed next, if they weren’t there already.
As I wound the Mustang to a hundred and merged onto the
my thoughts converged on what had happened. I thundered over the Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge
and didn’t let up on the accelerator until the descent on the other side into Cooper River .
If not for the patrol car usually parked at the end of the bridge, I wouldn’t
have let up at all. Mt. Pleasant
The small beach-shack my uncle had called home for as long as I’d known him stood on the south side of the Isle of Palms. Sand covered the driveway—the entire yard, in fact. I swung around and parked, the High Intensity Discharge headlights from my Mustang bouncing off palmetto trees. I got out of my car and walked to the house that mimicked my uncle’s lifestyle. In the darkness, I opened the door to the screened-in porch, trimmed in rotten wood and white paint-flake, and eased my way between two old rocking chairs. At the front door I felt the top of the frame for the key, found it, and let myself in.
My uncle had left a light on in the living room. His prized surfboards leaned against one wall . . . vintage Hobies, Webers, and Nolls all waxed to perfection, unlike his car. A newer couch faced a big flatscreen TV. Two shot glasses and a tequila bottle sat on his glass-topped coffee table. Lipstick on one of the jiggers caught my attention.
He’d always said cell phones caused cancer. The one and only instrument for his land line sat in the kitchen. A calendar hung on the wall beside it. Ms. July stared at me with all her naked beauty. I pulled out the push-pin holding it to the wall and scanned the dates. Today, my birthday, had been marked in bold black marker. The previous week had a notation for a Mutt’s Bar.
With the calendar in hand, I walked into the bedroom. My uncle had shown me his version of a safe-deposit box, a hole in the floor covered by loose boards, when I moved to town. He peered at me with his one blue-crystal eye and his trademark grin peeking through a graying beard. “If anything happens to me, here’s some legal stuff.”
“Uncle Reggie,” I told him, “the next hurricane will blow this whole house and all your legal stuff to
It’ll land on the front lawn of the capitol, right next to the confederate
He said, “That’d be something, wouldn’t it?”
I knelt beside the bed and lifted a couple flooring boards up and out of the way. In the hole I saw two bands of cash and a stack of papers on top of a moving carton. I picked up the papers and sat on the bed to read them. Nothing popped out at me other than the cash—ten grand in each band. I put the bills in my pocket and carried the carton and calendar out to my car. The police were about to get a whole lot of help to solve this murder. Probably more than they’d want. And I would make sure they found my uncle’s killer . . . dead, if I got to him first.
Southern Heat Tour Page
About the Author:
David Burnsworth became fascinated with the
Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. Southern Heat is his first mystery. Having lived in University of Tennessee on Sullivan’s Charleston Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife along with their dog call home. South Carolina
His latest book is the southern noir/mystery, Southern Heat.
Visit his website at www.davidburnsworthbooks.com.
Connect & Socialize with David!