Saturday, April 23, 2016

Whew, now that was a week!

Hi Everybody,

I'm not 100% sure what time zone I'm in, but I wanted to give you an update on my whirlwind week!

Last weekend, my youngest and I road tripped to Georgia for a friend's wedding.  You can see on his face how excited he was to be in the car for five hours, right?  Never mind the angry face, I get that from him all the time - check him out in a tie!! 

After our weekend adventure, we arrived home Sunday and in was a massive effort to do laundry because I had a 6:15 AM flight to California to catch.  Early flights always sound like a good idea when you are booking them.  In theory they're a great idea, in execution: not so much.  I began feverishly packing and Zoey was removing items out of my suitcase as fast as I could put them in.  Furry four-legged children are NEVER helpful when it comes to suitcases and socks.

Landed in Los Angeles.  I swear the farmers in California must be sprinkling their fertilizer on the concrete because the city looks larger every time I see it!

HUGE highlight for me was Monday mid-day.  Jill Maglione and Tristan Wright agreed to meet me for a late lunch in Pasedena.  Who are Jill and Tristan, you ask?  Two of the most talented audiobook narrators on the planet, that's who!  Jill narrated His Frozen Heart and Tristan is the narrator for Fractured Karma and Shroud of Lies. 

It's funny, but since I associate their voices with my characters, it felt like I was eating lunch with Candy and Mark from the Brewer Brothers Series!  If you haven't heard them, here are sample links on Youtube.

Jill Maglione narrating His Frozen Heart:  SAMPLE LINK
Tristan Wright narrating Fractured Karma:  SAMPLE LINK

By Wednesday I was fully embracing the beach life.  I soooo love the sounds and smells of the ocean.  Sadly, there's no audio or scratch and sniff on my website, so you'll just have to enjoy the pictures.

Mandy at "I Read Indie" Blog surprised me with a review of Fractured Karma this week.  If you are ever looking for book recommendations she has literally - hundreds of book reviews.  Mandy was the first blogger who ever interviewed me - I soooo love this lady!  Here is a link to her blog.

I spent Thursday night on the harbor in San Diego.  I wish I'd have tried to get a better picture, so don't let my photography skills color your option - it was beautiful.

Finally, on the last leg home to Charleston, there was no greater joy than seeing my bags had made an extremely tight connection (the two purple bags are mine!).  My trip to California was great and in between all the trips to the beach, I even found some quality time on my laptop for writing!

Hope you all had a great week, too!

Happy Reading, Nancy

Friday, April 15, 2016

What a great week!

This has been such a great week I wanted to share it with all of you!

First, a huge thank you to Reading for Fun Blog.  I met Tina a few years ago in Nashville at UTopYA - she is one of the nicest ladies on the planet.  Naturally, I was elated to hear she listened to Blood Debt's audiobook and posted her review to her blog.  Here is the link: Reading for Fun Blog.  Not only is the review fantastic, but this is a lady who has authors clamoring to read their books - yes, authors have fangirl moments, too!  Thanks, Tina! (She's sandwiched in between Kristen Day and me in the photo from 2014).

Second, authors are busy.  Most of us have regular jobs, families, community commitments, and we squeeze every free moment into writing.  At heart, we are all ten-foot long bookworms, but trying to find time to read is like trying to get the last drop out of a ketchup bottle.  I was lucky enough to meet Michelle Bolanger in Roanoke, VA last May.  She read and reviewed Shroud of Lies this week and posted her review - Review Link on Goodreads.  If you are looking for a fun, original, YA Romance I highly recommend her first book, The Kiss.

Third, Celebrity Readers Blog posted an over-the-top FANTABULOUS Review of Fractured Karma! If I were any happier, there would be two of me!!  Check out their review here:  Link to Celebrity Readers Blog.  Thanks, Carla!

Finally, Rusty's Reading blog featured a spotlight of Fractured Karma today!!  Rusty's Reading Blog Link  Thanks Rusty!!

Pretty awesome week, right?  I thought so, too!

Next week is going to be pretty fantastic, too.  I will be traveling to Southern California and both the narrators for my Brewer Brothers series, Jill Maglione and Tristan Wright are going to meet me on Monday after I fly into LA!!  How cool is that?  Stay tuned, I'll post a picture of the three of us on Monday!!

Thanks so much Tina, Michelle, Carla and Rusty - you four rock!!  Jill and Tristan, you have no idea how excited I am for Monday afternoon!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Thanks to Celebrity Readers

I don't do this enough, but I wanted to say, "Thank you!" to Celebrity Readers.  They included Blood Debt in this week's TOP TEN EVERY PARANORMAL OR SPORTS ROMANCE LOVER SHOULD READ. 

I'd be grateful if a few of you could stop by their blog or facebook page and show some love.

Blog Address:

Facebook Page:

Happy Reading,

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Shroud of Lies - Release: Mar 4, 2016

Hi Everybody,

Shroud of Lies will be releasing on 4 March 2016!!  Why am I excited?  Because it is my tenth novel and my birthday!!  I can't wait to share the end of Mark and Dave's story with all of you and thought it would be cool to share my birthday with the two guys I've been spending the last couple years with!

It is available for pre-order now on Amazon.

Happy Reading,

Friday, February 12, 2016

Shroud of Lies - Chapter 2

Looking for another peek?
Releasing Soon!!

 Happy Reading,


Chapter 2 Setting Things Right
(Felix Watson – Kansas City, MO)
With Fernando in my corner, I had the supply chain I needed:  good quality, better pricing than I could get locally, and reliable deliveries.  Although he agreed to supply me the same way he had Johnny, Fernando gave me one caveat after I had returned to Kansas City:  he wanted one of his men involved in my operation.  My first inclination was to resist, but I realized it was a blessing in disguise – anyone who questioned my legitimacy would have a Mexican drug lord to deal with. 
Let Mark Brewer think he had gotten the better of me – he’d find out soon enough who was really calling the shots around this town.  Glancing at the clock every thirty seconds for the last hour and a half hadn’t made time move any faster.  Every detail was perfect for Esteban’s arrival:  the entire second floor of Corozzo’s Bistro was empty, except for me and the two hired men I used for personal security.  I had written a business plan which was worthy of an investor’s review.  I had even hired a valet to be on standby on the curb waiting for Esteban’s arrival.  First impressions were everything in this business.   
Heavy steps echoed off of the wooden stairs leading to where I waited on the second floor.  I scrambled to my feet, even though no one downstairs had notified me of my guest’s arrival.  Idiots – no one could follow simple instructions anymore.  I stood to welcome Esteban; he came into view as he climbed – my fight or flight reflex begged me to move toward the window. 
Esteban wore wire-rimmed mirrored sunglasses, his long dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail – the man didn’t have a neck.  Severe acne scars pocked his face on both cheeks.  A chest the width of a refrigerator protruded from a shin-length black leather duster, which he wore despite the stifling heat outside.  He looked to be average height, around 5’ 10”.  His mouth was turned down in an angry scowl.  When his dusty cowboy boots reached the top of the landing, I stood frozen in place.
He took in the empty room without removing his sunglasses.  No easy feat for a neckless man; instead of turning his head, his body pivoted as he scanned the second floor.  My two bodyguards were on their feet, but neither went an inch in Esteban’s direction: both looked like they were ready to wet themselves.  After Esteban was satisfied that there were no surprises in store for him, he reached up and slowly removed his sunglasses.  “You Felix.”
It wasn’t a question.  Or if it were, it didn’t sound like one.  I stammered, “Ye. . .I’m, Yes,”  Forcing my feet to move, I took three giant strides toward him and tripped on the carpet runner leading toward the stairs.  Righting myself, feeling the heat of embarrassment, I held out my hand, “I’m Felix.  You must be Esteban.  Welcome to Kansas City.  I hope your trip was uneventful.”
He took in my appearance with disdain.  Esteban’s eyes were so dark it was difficult to tell the difference between his iris and pupil.  My leather shoes were freshly shined, the creases on my pants could have split wood, and there was enough starch in my shirt to hold me erect if I wanted to nap.  By the time his eyes reached mine, they were dark narrow slits.  A lump formed in my throat – I swallowed hard trying to force it down.  The pitch of my voice was an octave higher than normal when I asked, “Can I get you a drink?”
His upper lip drew up, baring a few of his front teeth, as he answered, “Whiskey.” 
I glanced toward Reggie, wordlessly telling him to retrieve a drink.  His voice, too, lacked the baritone it normally had when he asked, “Um, ice?”
Esteban didn’t answer with words, instead glaring at Reggie who sprinted down the steps toward the bar on the first floor.  Esteban said nothing, and the longer he stood, the less I liked the idea of this man involved in my operation.  How could I broach that with Fernando?  What would Esteban do if I asked Fernando to call for his return? 
As if practicing for an Olympic sprint, Reggie ran back up the stairs with two glasses and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.  One glass was empty, the second was full of ice – he awkwardly held out everything to Esteban.  Again, no words, but Esteban nodded toward the table where I had been sitting before he arrived.  Reggie placed the bottle and both glasses on the table, then pulled the chair out like a seasoned maĆ®tre d’.
Esteban stomped over to the chair, but pulled the chair free of Reggie’s grasp before sitting down.  I took the seat directly across the table from Esteban.  He filled the glass without any ice in it, drained it, then poured another glass.  “Fernando says you need mi ayuda.”
My Spanish was poor at best, but I remembered ayuda.  “Your help?  Uh, sure.”  I glanced at Reggie who was doing his best to blend into the wall behind him.  Struggling to keep the lump down, I cleared my throat, “I would never turn down help from Fernando.”
Esteban emptied his glass a second time, then leaned back in his chair, his legs spread so far apart that a hybrid car could have parked between them.  “Tell me abou’ dis Mark Brewer.”
I hardly knew where to begin.  Mark had been a thorn in my side for years.  Is that why Fernando had insisted on sending Esteban here?  To get rid of Mark?  Nothing would make me happier.  “When Johnny was alive, there were five of us calling shots in his organization:  Johnny, Oscar, Spencer, Jorge, and me.  The five of us ran every aspect of his businesses, well, at least the ones that he didn’t pay taxes on.”
“Mark wasn’t involved until just before Johnny and Oscar were killed.”  I didn’t know what Fernando had told him, so I explained, “Johnny was in charge.  Oscar worked cleanup and muscle.  Spencer handled prostitution.  Jorge ran numbers and oversaw the bookies.  Cartel operations were mine.”
Esteban’s right eyebrow twitched when I said the word “cartel.”  I corrected, “I mean pharmaceuticals.  Meth, primarily, Johnny wasn’t a fan of cocaine and said any kid with a UV light could grow their own pot.”  I tried to chuckle, but it came out as a freaky sounding cackle.  Esteban failed to see the humor. 
Clearing my throat again, “Mark Brewer had been a punk kid stealing cars before Jorge offered him a job as a low level guy moving money for bookies.  The kid was someone Jorge liked, so when I needed a lackey to run drugs from different dealerships in the Midwest, Mark was on the short list.  He fit the bill:  no criminal record, decent references, good work ethic.  Mark was supposed to work for me, but Johnny took an interest in the kid.  Instead of reporting to me like every other guy before him had, Mark believed that he worked directly for Johnny.”
Esteban accused, “You could no’ control your own employee?”
His accusation normally would have prickled me, but in this situation, I couldn’t afford for Esteban to think I was a hothead or weak.  No doubt he would report any concerns he had directly to Fernando.  “I could control Mark just fine.  There was just a miscommunication in the beginning about who he worked for.  I took it up with Johnny.  Johnny told Mark that he was my underling.” 
Esteban’s hand rubbed the stubble on his chin.  I felt like a rodent just before a snake’s strike.  My voice sped up nervously, “Everything drug-related was mine.  I never trusted Mark.  I could smell the police stench on him from the first time I met him.  Every chance I got, I told Johnny that Mark was a police plant – he never took me seriously.”
La policia?  Un infiltrado?”  I now had Esteban’s full attention.
“Yeah.  I bet Johnny wishes he had taken my warning more seriously now.  Mark may not have fired the bullets, but he is responsible for getting Johnny and Oscar killed.  Ask anybody.  The whole town knows it was Mark who got them both murdered.”
“Johnny knew Mark was working for la policia and he did nothing?  Eso es loco.”   
“I didn’t have any proof back then.  Instead, Johnny moved Mark out from under me and put him on his estate running his personal security team.”
Incredulously, Esteban asked, “To his estate?”
It didn’t make sense to me then, and made even less sense to me now.  Esteban’s suspicion was suffocating.  I had to make him believe.  “I know.  I thought it was crazy, too.  But I think Johnny moved him there so he could keep a closer eye on him.  I was sure it was only a matter of time before Mark would slip up and the smug bastard would get what was coming to him.”
“Go on.”
  I shook my head.  “He never did.  I hired a driver to replace Mark.  The kid got himself killed on a routine delivery in Sioux Falls.  Johnny pulled Mark off of his security detail and sent him back to his old job moving drugs from the dealerships.”
Esteban’s head turned in an unnatural stare, “You said he was moved to security for Johnny to keep a closer eye on him.  Why move him back to drugs?”
“I don’t know.  When Mark transitioned off of security, he started showing up at leadership meetings with the five of us.  Mark began to encroach on my drug operations while I was promoted to be the General Manager of the car dealership.”  It had been a coup.  Nothing could have been further from a promotion, but I’d keep that tidbit of information to myself.  “No matter how many times I reminded Johnny that Mark couldn’t be trusted, he ignored me.  Who’s laughing now?” 
“You told Fernando that you did no’ work for Mark.  That was a lie.”
“No!  I was in charge.  It was me!  After Johnny and Oscar’s murders, Mark self-appointed himself to take Johnny’s place.  Mark knew I would never support him, so to make sure there was no resistance, he promoted people up into leadership who didn’t belong.”
Esteban raised a crooked finger at me, “You allow’ this to happen.”
It was an accusation, not a question.  I couldn’t afford for word to get back to Fernando that I had been less than truthful.  “Oscar had been Johnny’s right hand.  Liam had worked for Oscar for a long time, when Oscar was killed Mark moved Liam up to the leadership circle.  Mark’s decision to promote Liam was out of line.  He may have been someone Oscar trusted, but that didn’t mean Liam had a voice the same as Oscar’s in our circle.  Oscar’s body wasn’t even cold when Liam was promoted.  Mark didn’t even ask me before he made the change.”
Esteban lowered his finger; his eyes narrowed, and he annunciated every word, “You told Fernando that you were Johnny’s right hand.  You lied to Fernando.”
“For drugs!  I was his right hand for drugs.  Oscar worked clean-up.”  Either he didn’t believe me, or if he did believe me, my words had just convinced him that I really hadn’t been in charge of anything.  I chastised myself for the slip.  Before he could accuse me of misleading Fernando, I explained, “Jorge ran numbers.  He had been in Johnny’s leadership circle for years.  I didn’t trust him, though.  Jorge was the reason that Mark was promoted as quickly as he was.  No one gets on that type of fast track.  Jorge had pulled strings for Mark with Johnny – that put Jorge on my watch-list, too.”
Esteban eased back in his chair.  The more comfortable he became, the faster words spewed out of me.  “Spencer worked prostitution.  He and I didn’t have much interaction.  Spencer was one of the few in the leadership circle who Mark couldn’t manipulate.  Spencer had serious reservations about Mark taking over and calling shots.  Neither one of us was given the opportunity to say a word.  He left Jorge and Spencer in place, but promoted Liam and Kerry because he needed others who would follow him blindly.  Promoting two new people right after the murders threw off the balance of power.  That was the only reason Mark was able to make the changes he did.  After Mark put himself in charge, he dismantled the whole organization.”
Esteban reiterated his earlier accusation.  “And you le’ it happen.”
My mouth was dry.  I hadn’t let anything happen.  Esteban was getting the whole situation wrong.  “Mark was working with the cops!  Probably the FBI and DEA, too.”    
Esteban poured more liquor in his glass.  He held it, spinning the amber liquid in a circle, his eyes focused on the little twister of whiskey he held rather than on me. 
I thought back to when everything had happened:  Jorge was a little too eager to do whatever Mark wanted.  I learned later that he, too, had a hidden agenda.  Jorge didn’t mind shutting down Johnny’s organization because he wanted to strike out on his own.  Mark paid him back for his loyalty by letting Jorge keep his office in Johnny’s Casino:  most of the bookies in town didn’t know that Jorge was running his own numbers. 
Esteban drained his third glass.  His silence made my unease morph into fright.  “Mark Brewer gave everyone an envelope full of money and called it severance from Johnny Corozzo.  It was his way of clearing his conscience for murdering Johnny.  Most of the ingrates took the money and ran.  It wasn’t Mark’s money to give away.  He was one guy in Johnny’s circle – no one put him in charge.  The three of us who remained should have had a say in how the organization kept going instead of him sneaking around corners and deciding the whole thing was over.”
“Mark gave you money?” 
“I took my envelope just like the others had, but I vowed not to let everything we worked for go down the drain.”  The business plan I had so carefully assembled sat in front of me, I pushed the papers toward him, but Esteban did little more than glance at the paper.  “I purchased an auto parts store, trying to replicate the same system Johnny and Fernando had.  The engines bound for US dealerships could just as easily be sent to an auto parts store.”
Esteban nodded.  “Fernando does no’ believe you are the right man for the job.”
“I am!  I’ve got everything set up.  I’m ready to start taking deliveries.”
“I do no’ think you are the right man.”
“I am.  I swear I am.  Let me just show you what I’ve done.”  I shoved the papers at him so fast, they nearly slid onto the floor.  “If you’ll look here. . .”
Esteban cut me off, “And if Mark finds out what you’re doing?”
“Screw Mark.  He didn’t catch wind of Fernando’s first shipment – no one did.”
“No.”  His answer hung in the air like a bird caught in a cross wind.  “No more drugs until you prove Mark won’t be a problem.”
“How do I do that?”  Mark was still in the city but had set up some sort of shelter for runaways.  Mark wouldn’t try to insert himself in anything I was doing.  Mark spilled everything he knew about the operation to the DEA then walked away.  Attempting to replicate what Johnny had done with the dealerships would be too easy for them to find and would be a quick ticket to prison.  The auto parts store was the perfect substitute.    
“Fe-lix,” he dragged out my name, “I do no’ care what you do.  No more drugs until Mark Brewer is out.”  Esteban stood, his hand still holding the whiskey glass.  “Fernando sent you the first shipment, but that is it until Mark is no’ a problem.  Fernando is patient, but don’t take too long.”  He set the glass down hard on the table.  The sound echoed off of the walls. 
Esteban straightened his leather duster, slid his sunglasses over his eyes, and put his back to me.  I watched him as he disappeared down the stairs.  Reggie and Brian looked visibly relieved when Esteban was out of sight.  Some security they turned out to be.
I looked around the second floor.  Johnny had always operated out of Corozzo’s Bistro.  Most of the people on the crew knew that, but few other than me knew why.  The second floor of the bistro was a room which was electronically hardened.  Signals were nearly impenetrable.  No listening devices could get through the walls, which meant no electronic signals on computers or conversations could be captured.  I could build my own office the same way Johnny had used this one, but that would take months, and from what Esteban had said, I didn’t have that kind of time.
Since the bistro was now managed by a holding company appointed by Johnny’s estate, I couldn’t simply take the place over – that would be too obvious.  An idea came to me.  I walked downstairs, with Reggie and Brian falling in step behind me.  There was a small hallway just to the right of the kitchen: the first door on the left belonged to the general manager.  He hadn’t been replaced after Johnny’s death, so he remembered me.  He stood up from his desk when he saw me, “I trust your meeting went well?”
“It did, Antonio.  Thank you for the use of the second floor.”
“Always happy to help a friend of Johnny’s.”  He made a cross over his heart, “God rest his soul.”  He lifted his wrist to check the time on his watch, “Just in time for the dinner crowd.”
“I’ll be using the second floor for a while longer.  My office is going through. . . renovations.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Watson, I’ve got dinner reservations that have been made for months.  It was okay today, but I can’t afford to lose the table space upstairs.”
The table space?  Did he forget who he was talking to?  “No, those table are out of commission.  In fact, I want you to have all but one removed – leave the one that seats eight.  I’ll be using the second floor until the renovations of my office are complete.”
“Mr. Watson, you wanted to use it today and I said okay because you were a friend of Mr. Corozzo, but I need those tables.”
“I understand.  It would be a shame if anything bad happened upstairs that would cause you to close the whole place down.”  I looked at Reggie and Brian who were oblivious to what I was saying.  I cleared my throat, “Like a brawl upstairs that busted the place up.”  Neither of my men moved.  “Or tables being tossed down the stairs.”
Antonio was a slight man.  His hands nervously tucked behind his back as his eyes widened and his mouth gaped.  He knew exactly what I was insinuating even if the two imbeciles who worked for me didn’t.  “Mr. Watson, I don’t want any trouble.  I’m just a businessman running a bistro.”
“A bistro with a booked-up second floor,” I corrected.
   Antonio pulled his hands from behind his back and crossed his arms, “It’s not up to me.  If it were, I would be happy to help a friend of Mr. Corozzo, but I have to report sales every week now.  If I lose the upstairs, I can’t explain the loss in revenues.”
I nodded my agreement, “That is troublesome.  I’m sure the board of directors looks at your books frequently.” 
Antonio nodded earnestly, “Every week.”
“You know, Reggie over there used to be an arson investigator.  Did you know that?”
Antonio looked confused.  “It would be a shame if something were to happen in the bistro.  An accident of some kind.  Accidents happen all the time.”  I looked at Reggie, who was so clueless he might as well have said, “Uh, no, I wasn’t.”  I shot him a look telling him to remain silent.  “A fire, for example, in the kitchen could shut this place down for months.” 
Antonio stood a little straighter, “What are you saying?”
“Saying?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  It just occurred to me that if you had a fire in the kitchen, an accidental fire, of course – it could be months without so much as a penny of revenues coming in.  Wouldn’t that be a shame?  How many employees do you have?  A fire would put every one of them out of work for months.”
Antonio shifted his weight from one foot then to the other, but made no comment.  “Did you know that the vast majority of arson cases are inside jobs?”  Antonio looked at Reggie, but said nothing.  “You see, if an accident were to occur and it wasn’t an accident, fire investigators are trained to look at employees first.  Why Reggie, didn’t you tell me that you once got a conviction with a manager who had cans of accelerant in his garage?”
Reggie finally understood what I was saying.  “Yes, sir.  That’s how we caught him.  Circumstantial evidence was enough to convict.  We didn’t need any hard evidence – he got manslaughter `cause one of the employees didn’t make it out.  Jury took five minutes to decide he was guilty.”
Kudos to Reggie for his improvisation.  I shook my head, “That is an awful shame.  Can you imagine?  I would hate for that type of an accident to happen here.  Something like that, well, losing a couple employees in a fire, the lost revenues from a fire, and the potential for the manager to be brought up on arson charges – that would be just dreadful.”
Antonio pulled at the collar of his shirt.  He nodded.  “Mr. Watson, you are welcome to use the second floor for as long as you need it.  I am sure I can rearrange our reservations.”
“That’s kind of you to offer, Antonio.  We’ll be back tomorrow morning.  Have all but one of the tables removed.  Oh, and I’ll need a bar stocked upstairs for our guests.  Make sure there is a case of Jack Daniel’s.”
He nodded. 
I had my supply chain set up.  I had a safe place to do business. I just needed to demonstrate to Fernando that I meant business.  Mark was in for a rude awakening:  either he’d find a new city to call home or I’d bury him.  Either option worked for me.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Shroud of Lies (Brewer Brothers 3) Chapter 1

I thought a few of you might like a sneak-peek at Shroud of Lies.  Here is the first chapter.  Happy Reading!  Nancy

Chapter 1 The New Johnny
(Felix Watson - Mexico)
This trip had dispelled my notion that drug lords lived lavish lifestyles – I would never be duped to believe that again.  Maybe Fernando’s home was nice by third-world standards, but a better description would be a derelict property rather than living quarters.  My rental car eased through the rusty gate off of the dirt road, while I avoided as many of the large potholes cratering the drive as I could.  Free-range farm animals required defensive driving while I felt guns trained on me from a guard shack near the main house.  Beads of sweat formed above my brow – I had come too far to turn back now. 
I stopped my rental car near the front door in an area where no grass or weeds bothered to grow.  The stench as I opened my door was overwhelming:  a cross between a landfill and a sewer.  Just feet from where I parked lay a large decaying animal carcass.  At some point, the animal had probably been a cow.  The mass of putrid meat had been picked over by vultures; bullet holes created a disgusting mosaic in what was left of it.   
No one from the guard shack challenged me, but I felt their distrustful stares.  I moved at a slug’s pace in hopes that my movements wouldn’t draw gunfire.  The chickens which ran wild on the property deposited their droppings on the ground like landmines to be avoided. 
Fernando’s home was an adobe-colored stucco, accented by a sun-bleached red tile roof.  Windows were sprinkled along the first and second floors, but each window was covered with blackout shades and blinds – no prying eyes were permitted entry.  Scrubby bushes seemed to grow where they wanted on the property.  A Saguaro cactus twice my height, stood in the distance; it resembled a hand with an outstretched middle-finger flipping off uninvited guests.  My foot sunk into the sandy soil, which was an improvement over the thin concrete sidewalk which led to the front door – it, too, was covered in chicken droppings.  
A black iguana stood in my path as I approached the front door; it was the size of a small dog.  I stomped my foot in attempt to scare it off- when it held its ground, I side-stepped the hideous thing.  My attention remained focused on the lizard and my inability to fight it off, if it were to attack, when the front door opened and an old woman swatted at the beast with a broom.  She beckoned me to follow her.
The thick warm inside air wrapped me like a too heavy blanket – either Fernando did not have central air, or he chose to live in an oven.  Ceiling fans complained with their loud rhythmic squeaks and wobbly spins – this was far from the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous that I had envisioned when I planned my trip to meet the drug lord who had supplied Johnny Corozzo. 
An old woman in a faded blue cotton dress led me to a poorly lit sitting room.  Her osteoporosis had her slouched so far forward that only her shoulders were visible from behind.  She gestured for me to go inside where a man sat at a table, papers strewn in front of him while a flat screen television tuned to a news station was affixed to the wall behind him.  The volume was muted.  I couldn’t be sure if the man in front of me was Fernando or not.  The man’s complexion was dark; he had raven-colored hair and a scraggly moustache that fell over his upper lip. 
This had to be Fernando.  I plastered on my widest smile and held out my hand to introduce myself.  The man eyed my outstretched hand, but did not offer his own – after several uncomfortable seconds, I lowered mine.  This was not going well, at all.  The man remained seated, while he took a deep drag from his cigarette; his heavy accent startled me when he finally spoke, “You are either brave or stupid.”
There was a fine welcome.  “Neither.  Johnny spoke highly of you.  I wanted to meet you in person.”
He spit out the word, “Stupid.” 
Stretching my back, I stood up straighter – I couldn’t let this man see a morsel of fear.  “I’m Felix.  I was Johnny’s right hand before he was murdered.”
Fernando narrowed his stare, “His right hand?”  His question hung in the air daring me to backpedal. 
Or maybe that wasn’t it.  “Right hand” was a common term, right?  English wasn’t Fernando’s first language; calling myself Johnny’s right hand might mean something different here.  Sweat from my forehead dripped into my eyebrow.  I wanted to wipe it away, but if Fernando hadn’t noticed, I didn’t want for him to think I was nervous.  I took a seat in the chair across from him without being invited to sit.  “That’s right.  Almost twenty years.”
Fernando’s tone was flat.  “Strange he never mentioned you.”
Another drip, this one ran down from my temple and onto my cheek.  How could people live in this sweltering heat?  “That is strange.  I was involved in securing his dealership franchise, setting up the remote dealerships, coordinating shipments – everything.”
Fernando took another long drag on his cigarette, “You were an errand boy.” 
“I did whatever Johnny asked of me:  advice when he wanted it, errands sometimes, sure, but he had my loyalty to the end.”  That was an honorable answer. 
“Why you?  I have plenty of others who want my product.” 
My heart pounded so hard that I worried Fernando might hear it.  The stench from his stale cigarette smoke both burned my eyes and turned my stomach.  The pitch of my voice gave away the fear coursing through me.  “You know me.  I know how to move your product.”
“I don’t know you.”  Fernando leaned back in his seat.  “I know you worked for Mark.”
“I never worked for Mark!”  Fernando studied my response, I might have just made a grave error.  No matter how much I hated Mark Brewer, losing my composure like that made me sound weak.  I despised Mark – more had happened after Johnny’s death than Fernando knew.  I gripped the arm rests on my chair in an attempt to get my emotions under control before answering.  “Mark thought he could call the shots after Johnny died.”
Fernando nodded in a condescending manner, “He did call the shots after Johnny died.  He shut the operation down.  You didn’t stop him.  You were nobody.”
“Mark’s dirty.  He set Johnny up.” I wasn’t sure if I was becoming desensitized to the stale odor inside, or if Fernando’s accusation drown out everything else, but he had me focused.  I had tried to have this same conversation over the phone, but speaking cryptically got us nowhere and I couldn’t be sure our phones weren’t tapped.  I knew if I were going to restart the operation, we needed to meet in person.  It was rumored that Johnny had met Fernando only once.  It was Johnny’s way of showing respect and convincing his new partner that he could be trusted – now it was my turn.
Fernando pressed his cigarette butt into an overflowing ashtray.  It only added to the stale smell already permeating the room.  Digging my fingers into the material of the arm rest on the chair, I steadied myself, “Mark was a snitch.  He was working with the police.  I didn’t have any choice but to lie low at the time.”
“You had a choice, Amigo.  You chose to cower in front of him.  Now you come here, for what?  To tell me you are taking over operations that no longer exist?”
Desperation rang loud in my words, “No, I was biding my time.  The police are done asking questions.  It’s time to turn the supply chain back on.”
Fernando rubbed his chin as if considering the possibility of a new business arrangement.  “What happens when Mark learns that you have defied him?”
“Let me worry about Mark.  I just need your assurance that you will supply to me, the same way you did for Johnny Corozzo.”
Silence hung in the air.  Fernando didn’t flinch. 
I began spewing assurances, attempting to convince Fernando that I would be every bit as reliable as Johnny had been.  “You can trust me.  I’ve got distribution channels ready.  I’ve got cash to pay a deposit on the first shipment.”
Fernando refused to listen, so my volume grew louder.  “The police suspect nothing.  I’ll keep you informed daily if you want.”  The more he wouldn’t listen, the faster the words came out.  “Name it.  Tell me what I can do to prove to you that I have enough skin in the game.  I guarantee to move as much product as Johnny did within three months.  Where else will you get that type of assurance?”
Fernando reached into a wooden cigar box positioned in front of him on the table.  He extracted a black pistol which stopped me in mid-sentence.  The sound of my heart pounded in my ear, my vision clouded, and a final drop of sweat slid down my cheek.  In my life, guns had been pointed in my direction exactly three times – this one aimed at my chest was the first one I ever believed might kill me. 
The handgun itself was all black, but the end of the muzzle had silver streaks emanating from it – it had fired so many times that the bluing had completely worn away.  Fernando shook the pistol, as if he did not already have one hundred percent of my attention by simply pointing the weapon at me.  “I give you one chance.  If Mark starts trouble, you deal with him.  You don’t deal with him, you will deal with me.  Comprende?”
My head nodded at his terms – words wouldn’t form.  Fernando rested the weapon in his lap; an inrush of blood shot to my head as my heart began beating faster than a machine gun.  Without any assurances of product quantity, prices, or delivery schedules – Fernando gestured for me to leave by pointing the muzzle toward the door. 
I had hoped to negotiate, to get into specifics on how the operations would be turned back on, but the second Fernando had brandished the pistol, I would have agreed to anything Fernando had offered.  I was not in a position to negotiate; negotiations would come once he needed me, after I had proved my value to him. 
I rose to my feet, stumbled from my chair, and walked backwards towards the door.  Before exiting, I offered, “I will make you a wealthy man.  You have my word.”
Fernando nodded his approval, but said nothing.  He still held the handgun as I slipped through the doorway.    
Meeting with Fernando had been both brilliant and horrifically stupid.  Without having come to Fernando’s home – my life would not have been in danger, but I gained valuable insight from this trip.  Having seen first-hand the squalor of Fernando’s life, I knew wealth was Fernando’s priority. 
Had the meeting gone poorly, I could have been murdered in this disgusting place, then cast out in the front yard like the rotting flesh parked beside my rental car.  After I eased through the gate and onto the dirt road outside of Fernando’s property, I took a deep breath in an attempt to steady my racing heart. 
The mere act of filling my lungs with air after having a gun pointed at my chest gave me a sense of gratefulness.  The stakes were always high with cartels, but working directly with Fernando, I could purchase at the lowest possible price and have the same quality that Johnny had been able to deliver.
It was my time.  No longer would I scurry around in the shadows of others.  With Mark Brewer out of the way, my name will be synonymous with organized crime – I would breathe life back into the organization which had been disbanded.  Fernando’s backing gave me the clout I had sought for years.  His backing positioned me to be Kansas City’s next Johnny Corozzo.