Blog Tour: Book Excerpt Still Black Remains

Book Excerpt

Valentine is in the room, his hands tied behind his back, with duct tape across his mouth and the hood probably still covering his face.  He has been that way for hours and nobody cares about him.  What only matters is that he is alive; they have to do something with him to send the right kind of message to the Italians, and it has to be soon.
“Room up there gets hot,” Twist said earlier.  “I was one of the ones who bricked them windows last summer. I remember that.”
Cuba shot him a look.  “So?”
“So maybe we need to find him a fan,” Twist said.  “Or at least walk him into one of the other rooms every hour.  Get him some air.  Can’t hurt.”
“Fuck that,” Cuba said.
“No danger doing that.”
“What if he sees something?” somebody else put in.
“Like what?” Twist said.  “The house down the street? Asphalt? A vacant lot?  Ain’t nothing to see that’s gonna matter.”
“Fuck him,” Cuba said.  “He don’t matter.  Who gives a fuck if the man is comfortable?”
“It ain’t right,” Twist said but nobody listened.  “Leaving him like that.”
“What’s right don’t matter no more,” Bone put in.  “Wasn’t right what happened to Ice.  And Spider.  Wasn’t right they got Malik.
“You forgetting that this is personal,” Cuba said to Twist.
Twist shook his head.
“I didn’t forget nothing.”
“Then why the fuck you care about what’s right?” Cuba said.
“Ain’t for you to worry about,” Bone told him.  “Don’t matter none if he’s comfortable.”
“You worry about organization and execution,” Cuba added tersely.  “Let me worry about taking care of the prisoner.  That’s my job, not yours.”
It was right about then that Twist decided he had heard enough bullshit from them to last the rest of his night.  He took his pack of Camels and climbed the stairs to the second floor, leaving them to argue about what might happen next.  Sometimes he hears Cuba and Bone throw “organization and execution” at him like it’s something old and dirty that doesn’t matter as much as what they’ve got.  And sometimes Twist asks himself how much more of Cuba and Bone he can put up with.  But it isn’t worth getting into it with them.
Besides, he knows Valentine is probably dead.
It is only a matter of time before they kill him.  They didn’t grab him off the street in the heart of his own neighborhood just to rough him up then let him go as some kind of warning.  They are too far past things like warnings.
There are no answers that way.
Valentine is a soldier, just like Ice and Spider and most of the guys in the Skulls, and soldiers turn into casualties in the blink of an eye.  You expect to lose people every time you make a stand, the same way the Italians expect it.
Even though the losses hurt.
Now Twist walks around the building, lost in the silence of the rooms, thinking about what it will mean to each of them when that happens.
The old garage is cold and lonely, even when filled with voices, laughter, and music.  It’s a three story brick building that had once been an auto repair shop owned by somebody’s older brother but Twist has a hard time remembering who or whatever happened to the guy.  The phone is still connected but nobody talks business on it; it’s just a front, like the stack of tires in front of the garage bay doors and the sign over the door advertising $19.99 OIL CHANGE.  It’s the kind of place where there is always activity; guys coming and going at all hours, stopping by to shoot pool on the downstairs table or playing Xbox, pouring drinks, or crashing in one of the bedrooms on the second floor.  It is in the heart of their turf, in downtown Newark, right off the intersection of Broad and Murray Streets, not more than fifty yards from the train tracks.  Close enough to Penn Station that the AMTRAK Acela and New Jersey Transit diesels shake the building whenever the trains rumble into the station.
There are guns on tables and hidden inside false walls, with bullets and ammo clips stacked in crates, boxes, and barrels in the basement.  Guys sit in circles at tables with twenty-twos and nines stuffed in their pants, using rolled up dollar bills to snort lines of coke or crystal meth stretched across table tops.  Other guys sit slumped in chairs, absorbed in the games on their iPhones or the Xbox.  There is a Jeep in one of the bays, with a tank of gas, keys in the ignition, and a loaded nine under the seat in case they need a fast escape.  There are guards and sentries posted inside as well as somebody on the street watching for anything out of the ordinary.
Until this afternoon they watched for other gangs or worried about cops from the Major Crimes Unit busting down their doors.
Now they are waiting for the Italians and worried about what happens next.
There are a few neighbors but nobody gives them grief anymore or stops them from doing business.  Sometimes the fathers of those twelve year old birds who wound up in that third floor bedroom bang at the door, but staring down the barrel of a forty-five and facing a line of guys can take away a man’s courage.  Those fathers were dangerous until they realized their little girls didn’t belong to daddy no more.  Then everything changed about the way they looked at the building.
38 Murray is everything to the Skulls.  It is a place to meet and plan and organize their business.  A place to plan for their future.
A place to decide how a man gets to live his life.
Or how his life is to end.
It’s funny, Twist thinks, how things can fall apart in the blink of an eye.

About the Book

“Still Black Remains” is an original work of fiction.  It tells the story of Twist, one of the leaders of an inner city gang named the Skulls, and the architect of his gang’s decision to kidnap a mafia soldier in a last-ditch attempt to end a violent turf war.  The war started when the Skulls tried taking a bigger piece of the drug business in their Newark, New Jersey neighborhood from the organized crime family who had once been their partners.  Like most great ideas, the plan doesn’t turn out as expected. Negotiations between the gangs deteriorate, words fail, the violence escalates, and the only recourse left is the inevitable execution of the hostage.  Chosen to be the one to execute the prisoner, the story covers Twist’s ability to pull the trigger, the consequences of that action, and his internal struggle.  As the volatile situation grows more explosive by the hour, the lines between right and wrong blur; resolution comes with a price and Twist has to decide if pulling the trigger will get him what he wants, and if he can live with that cost.

Author Bio

Kevin Michaels is the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel LOST EXIT, as well as two entries in the FIGHT CARD BOOKS series: HARD ROAD and CAN’T MISS CONTENDER. He also released a collection of short stories entitled NINE IN THE MORNING. His short stories and flash fiction have also appeared in a number of magazines and indie zines, and in 2011 he was nominated for two separate Pushcart Prize awards for his short stories. Other shorts have been included in the anthologies for SIX SENTENCES (volumes II and III) and ACTION: PULSE POUNDING TALES (2).
In April 2017 his latest novel STILL BLACK REMAINS will be published by Literary Wanderlust LLC.

He has also published a number non-fiction articles and stories in print publications ranging from the and the Life/Style section of The Boston Globe to The Bergen News and Press Journal and raged in print at places like the triCity News, NY Daily News, and The Press.

He is the Founder and Creative Director of Story Tellers which is a community-based organization that develops and promotes literacy through writing. Story Tellers provides under-served teenagers, young adults, and women from distressed situations the opportunity to discover the strength and power of their own voices (self-empowerment through self-expression).

Originally from New Jersey, he carries the attitude, edginess, and love of all things Bruce Springsteen common in his home state, although he left the Garden State to live and work in the foothills of the Appalachians (Georgia) with his wife, Helen and an assortment of children and pets.



  1. Thanks very much for being a part of the Still Black Remains tour and posting an excerpt from the book!
    And special thanks and appreciation to all of your readers and followers who picked up a copy of the book!

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