A Touch of Deceit (Nick Bracco Series #1)
"Author Gary Ponzo has dashed off a fast-paced political thriller with the skill of a Tom Clancy or Ludlum. Loved the characters and the relationships and the insights into the world of counter-terrorism. Great book. Couldn't put it down and now I want more. Bravo."
— Stephen Carpenter, author of Killer, 5 stars out of 5
"A Touch of Deceit by Gary Ponzo is a great action & adventure story that will keep you turning the pages so you can find out what happens next."
— Ardee Eichelmann, Amazon reviewer, 5 stars out of 5
"A Touch of Deceit is quite a thriller with many twists and turns and a great ending."
— James F. Ganem, Amazon reviewer, 5 stars out of 5
"The plot line was riveting, nail biting and fast paced. It was hard to put down. Ponzo takes you on a ride that is suspenseful, captivating and truly an enjoyable read. A real page turner. The ending has a surprisingly neat twist. I love a book that keeps you engaged from start to finish. A great thriller."
— caylen1, Amazon reviewer, 5 stars out of 5
Winner of the Southwest Writers Novel Contest, Thriller category!
FBI agent Nick Bracco can't stop a Kurdish terrorist from firing missiles at random homes across the country. The police can't stand watch over every household, so Bracco recruits his cousin Tommy to help track down this terrorist. Tommy is in the Mafia. Oh yeah, it gets messy fast. As fast as you can turn the pages.
There was a time when Nick Bracco would walk down Gold Street late at night and young vandals would scatter. The law was present and the guilty took cover. West Baltimore was alive with crime, but Gold Street remained quarantined, reserved for the dirtiest of the dirty. That’s how Nick remembered it anyway. Before he left for the Bureau to fight terrorists. Now, the narrow corridor of row houses felt closer to him and the slender strip of buckled sidewalk echoed his footsteps like a sentry announcing his presence. It wasn’t his territory anymore. He was a foreigner.
Nick scrutinized the landscape and searched for something out of place. The battered cars seemed right, the graffiti, even the shadows seemed to darken the proper corners. But something was missing. There were no lookouts on the concrete stairwells. The ubiquitous bass line of hip-hop was absent. The stillness reminded him of jungle birds falling silent in the prelude to danger. The only comfort came from the matching footsteps beside him. As usual, Matt McColm was by his side. They’d been partners for ten years and were approaching the point of finishing each other’s sentences.
“You’re awfully quiet,” Matt said.
“Did I mention that I don’t have a good feeling about this?”
“Uh, huh.” Matt tightened his collar against the autumn chill and worked a piece of gum with his jaw. “That’s your theme song.”
“Really? Don’t you ever get a bad feeling about a call?”
“All the time.”
“How come you never tell me?”
“I’m going to feed the flames of paranoia?”
They walked a little further in silence. It got darker with every step. The number of working streetlights dwindled.
“Did you just call me paranoid?” Nick said.
Matt looked straight ahead as he walked; his casual demeanor caused him to appear aloof, but Nick knew better. Even at half-mast, Matt’s eyes were alert and aware.
“Maybe paranoid is too strong of a word,” Matt said.
“I would hope so.”
“More like Mother-henish.”
“That’s better,” Nick said. “By the way, did you eat your broccoli tonight?”
They strode further; low-lying clouds gave the night a claustrophobic feel.
“This guy asked for you specifically?” Matt said.
“That bother you a little?” Matt asked.
“No,” Nick said. “That bothers me a lot.”
Up ahead, a parked car jostled. They both stopped. Neither of them spoke. They split up. By the book. Years of working together coming into play. Matt crouched and crept into the street. Nick stayed on the sidewalk and gave the car a wide berth. In seconds Matt became invisible. The car maintained a spastic rhythm. It was subtle, but Nick understood the familiar motion even before he flashed his penlight into the back seat and saw a pair of young eyes pop up through the grimy window. They were wide open and reacted like a jewel thief caught with a handful of pearls. The kid’s hair was disheveled and his shirt was half-off. His panting breath caused the inside of the window to fog up. He wasn’t alone. A pair of bare legs straddled his torso.
From the other side of the vehicle, Matt emerged from the shadows and charged the car with his pistol out front. He was just a few yards away when Nick held up his hand and said, “No.”
Matt stopped dead. He must’ve seen the grin on Nick’s face and realized the situation. He slowly holstered his Glock and took time to catch his breath.
Nick heard the kid’s voice through the closed window. “I ain’t doing nuthin’, man.”
Nick clicked off his penlight and slipped it back into his jacket. He smiled. “It may be nothing, but you sure worked up a sweat doing it.”
When Matt fell back into step next to his partner, Nick said, “You seemed a little . . . uh, paranoid?”
Matt returned to nonchalant mode. “Kids that young shouldn’t be doing the nasty out in the street.”
“Consider their role models,” Nick said. “You can’t change the tide with an oar.”
“Pardon me, Professor Bracco. Who said that one—Nietzsche?”
“I just made it up.”
“It sounded like it.”
They slowed their pace until Nick stopped in front of an old brick building with a worn, green awning above the entrance. Nick gestured down a dark flight of stairs where a giant steel door stood menacingly secure. “There it is.”
Matt nodded. “You bring me to all the best spots.”
When he was certain of their solitude, Nick descended the stairs. Matt followed, keeping an eye on their rear. In the darkness, Nick barely made out Matt’s silhouette.
“Listen,” Nick said, “it’ll be easier if we don’t have to use our creds, but let’s see how it goes. I don’t want to say any more than I have to, and you say nothing at all. Just be the silent brute that you are. Capisce?”
“If we get lucky, I’ll see a familiar face.” Nick raised his fist, hovered it in front of the door, then stopped to sniff the air. “You wearing aftershave?”
“You have a date after this?”
“Who makes a date with you at midnight?”
“She’s a waitress. She doesn’t get off until then.”
In the murky darkness, Nick sighed. He turned to face the door and, just like a thousand times before, he said, “Ready?”
He couldn’t see the response, but he heard Matt unfasten the flap to his holster. Matt was ready.
Nick used his wedding band hand to pound on the metal door. He shifted his weight as they waited. Nick heard Matt chewing his gum.
Nick said, “Midnight, huh?”
A rectangular peephole slid open allowing just enough light through to see a dark face peering out. The face was so large the opening supported only enough room for one of his eyes.
“Yeah?” the man grunted.
Nick leaned close to the opening so the man could see his face. The opening quickly slid shut.
They stood in the silence while Nick thought of his next move.
“He seems like a nice fellow,” Matt said.
The clang of locks unbolting was followed by the door squeaking open. It reminded Nick of an old horror movie.
The large black man wore a large black shirt that hung over his jeans and covered enough space to hide a rocket launcher. The man ignored Nick and gave Matt the once over.
Matt gave him the stone cold glare of a pissed-off FBI agent. No one did it better.
Then the man turned his attention to Nick. His head was round and clean-shaven. His expressionless face seemed to be set in cement.
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