Excerpt From More Deaths Than One

More Deaths Than OneDescription: More Deaths Than One: Bob Stark returns to Denver after 18 years in Southeast Asia to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again. He attends her new funeral and sees . . . himself. Is his other self a hoaxer, or is something more sinister going on? And why are two men who appear to be government agents hunting for him? With the help of Kerry Casillas, a baffling young woman Bob meets in a coffee shop, he uncovers the unimaginable truth.

Excerpt:

“My dad was a CO in the war,” Beth said proudly.

Bob shot a questioning glance at Scott. “A commanding officer?”

Scott snorted. “Not hardly. I registered as a con-scientious objector.”

“He got sent into combat,” Rose said. “Can you believe that?”

Bob drew back. “Combat? A lot of conscientious objectors, including Quakers have served in the military, but they were usually given duties like medic or clerk. I never heard of any being sent into combat.”

Scott shrugged. “Well, they sent me. I don’t know if it was a mistake or someone’s idea of a sick joke.”

“Dad wouldn’t fire his weapon,” Jimmy said. “He believes killing for any reason is wrong.”

“He won’t even kill bugs or spiders,” Beth added.

Kerry laid aside her fork. “It must have been terrible.”

Rose nodded. “They assigned him jobs of a particularly filthy or menial nature, like permanent latrine duty, trench digging, and retrieval of dead bodies.”

“Someone had to do it,” Scott said.

“I know, but they didn’t have to harass you the way they did.”

“They thought I was a coward, hiding behind my religious beliefs to get out of combat duty.” He sighed. “Maybe I was.”

“No you weren’t,” Rose said fiercely. “It took a lot of courage to maintain your dignity in the face of their hatred. And you always had to dodge bullets and skirt explosions on your way to rescue injured men.”

She turned to Kerry. “During combat he had to get the wounded out of the line of fire and to help the medic care for them.”

Kerry’s eyes widened. “I can’t even begin to comprehend the strength it must have taken to survive not only a combat zone, but the torment of one’s own countrymen.”

“I had my faith to sustain me,” Scott said.

Beth shuddered. “They shot my dad.”

“The bullet gouged a furrow on my thigh, a flesh wound.” Scott smiled. “In the movies they always say, ‘It’s just a flesh wound,’ as if it’s nothing, but mine hurt like the dickens. They wouldn’t give me many painkillers, either. One nurse pompously told me they didn’t want us wounded soldiers getting addicted so they cut back, but another nurse whispered that the hospital workers had used the drugs themselves for fun. They must have received new supplies, because I didn’t notice much after those first few days—they kept me doped—but I do remember being transferred to a hospital in the Philippines.”

“Can you believe they sent him back to Vietnam after that?” Rose said. “It makes me furious thinking about it.”

Scott reached across the table and grasped her hand. “When I got back, my sergeant said to me, ‘Now that you know being a conscientious objector doesn’t keep you from getting wounded or even killed, are you ready to do your duty as a combat soldier?’ ‘I have no control over the actions of other people,’ I told him. ‘If the VC choose to shoot me, there’s not much I can do about it. The only choice I have is whether or not to shoot them, and I will not kill anyone.’ He glared at me and ordered me to get out of his sight and to keep out of his sight, because I disgraced the U.S. Army.”

Scott kept silent for a time while his family gazed sympathetically at him. Bob watched them, thinking the man had more than his faith to sustain him.

Scott drew in a breath. “Everyone still treated me the same until after the next engagement. We were under heavy fire, and many of our guys got wounded. I kept busy hauling injured men away from the front line. Afterwards, the sergeant came to me and said, ‘Glad to see you finally got some balls.’ The others guys stopped ostracizing me as if by getting shot I had passed some sort of test, like an initiation, but sometimes I could hear them snickering at me behind my back.”

“Do you think maybe you changed?” Kerry asked.

“No. Well, in little ways, of course. I became more self-confident, knowing I had never wavered in my beliefs even though my faith had been severely tested, and occasionally I have nightmares that make me sick to my stomach, but for the most part I’m the same as always.”

Kerry pushed aside her plate, folded her arms on the table, and gave Scott an intent look. “What kind of nightmares?”

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I can’t.”

“Sure you can,” Jimmy said. “You always say we can do anything.”

Rose gazed at Scott with anxious eyes. “Maybe you should tell her, dear. You have always refused to talk about your nightmares, even to us, but perhaps it’s time.”

“Go ahead, Dad,” Beth chimed in. “You can tell Kerry.”

“But what if you find out my life is a lie?” Scott asked his wife. “What if you find out I’m an evil person?”

Rose looked at him in astonishment. “Evil? You?”

“In my dreams I am.”

“But those are only dreams.”

Scott held her gaze. After a moment he spoke in a voice so low Bob could barely make out his words. “In one of my dreams, the VC is firing on us. I see a man down. He’s hurt badly and is trying to crawl away. I go to help him, but before I drag him to safety, I take his M-16 from him. I don’t know why. I just do it. Then, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, I shoot the VC. I see blood spurting out of the men I shoot, and I hear their screams, but I keep shooting. When the rifle is empty, I return the weapon to the injured soldier, who is staring at me as if he can’t believe what he saw. He laughs, and I awaken with the sound of his laughter still echoing in my ears.

“All the dreams I have are similar to that one, but they involve different firefights and different men, as if I killed many times.

“I don’t know what these dreams mean. I don’t know why I dream them. But the idea that I murdered people, even if only in my dreams, makes me so sick I have to vomit. Sometimes after I’ve thrown up I feel as if I’ve gotten rid of the evil, but other times I feel as if the evil is a permanent part of me, and I wonder if somehow I did do those things.”

He looked at Bob with sad, sad eyes. “But it is only a dream, right?”

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Click here to buy: More Deaths Than One on Amazon

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

If You Like the Movie “Enemy” . . .

If you liked the movie Enemy, you might enjoy my novel, More Deaths Than One. Both stories are about doppelgangers of a sort. In Enemy, Adam sees his other self in “reel life” while In More Deaths Than One, Bob sees himself in real life.

Insomniac Bob Stark has returned from eighteen years in SE Asia and is sitting in a coffee shop in the middle of the night reading the current newspaper when he sees an obituary for his mother, a woman he buried twenty-two years previously. He goes to her funeral and watches the service from the shadows of a lilac bush.

Clustered with their backs to him stood a man, a woman, and six children ranging in age from about two years old to about sixteen. The obituary had mentioned six grandchildren, Bob recalled. Were these six his brother’s offspring, by an ex-wife, perhaps?

One of the children, a pudgy little boy, reached out and yanked the pigtails of the taller, skinnier girl slouching next to him. She slapped him. The next moment they were rolling on the ground and pummeling each other.

The woman turned around. “Stop it, you two.”

Bob sucked in his breath. Lorena Jones, his college girlfriend? What was she doing here? How did she know these people? He certainly hadn’t introduced her to them.

Feeling dizzy, he studied her while she scolded the children. Deep lines and red splotches marred her once satiny smooth face, and her body appeared bloated, as if she had not bothered to lose the extra weight from her last pregnancy or two. Despite those changes, she looked remarkably like her college picture he still carried in his wallet along with the Dear John letter that had ended their relationship.

Lorena nudged the man next to her. “Robert Stark, don’t just stand there. Do something.”

The man she called Robert Stark turned around to admonish the children.

Bob stared. The other Robert Stark seemed to have aged a bit faster than he, seemed more used, but the resemblance could not be denied. He was looking at himself.

Although some of the themes of the movie and my book are similar — identity, individuality, irony — my story is much easier to understand, though still surprising. Best of all, you don’t have to deal with spiders, real or symbolic.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Excerpt From More Deaths Than One

More Deaths Than OneYesterday, while searching More Deaths Than One for references to the scent of frangipani for my post Justifying Our Sex Scenes, I happened to find the passage below. It’s been so long since I’ve looked at the book, the story seemed fresh and new, and something I’d be interested in reading. (Which, actually, is why I wrote the book — to write something I’d like to read.) Note: ISI is Information Services, Incorporated, a corporation with ties to US intelligence agencies.

Description: Bob Stark returns to Denver after 18 years in SE Asia to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again. At her new funeral, he sees . . . himself. Is his other self a hoaxer, or is something more sinister going on?

Excerpt:

“Here, put this on.” Bob held out a brown two-inch-wide belt.

Kerry lifted her shirt and showed him the waistband of her dark cotton slacks. “It’s elastic, see? I don’t need a belt.”

“It’s a money-belt. I got two of them yesterday, one for me and one for you. There’s ninety-five hundred dollars in each of them—”

“Ninety-five hundred dollars?” Her eyes grew round. “In cash?”

“Yes. I would have liked to get more, but that’s all we’re allowed to bring into the United States without having to fill out forms, and in our situation, that can get sticky.”

“What would happen if we brought in more than that and didn’t declare it?”

“Maybe nothing unless we got caught, but since we’re traveling with fake IDs, I’d prefer not to complicate matters. When the problem with ISI goes away, I can have some of my money wired to an account in Colorado or wherever.”

“Just some? Not all?”

“It’s safe where it is.” When she gave him a narrow-eyed look, he laughed. “I don’t seem to be able to keep anything from you. It’s in a private bank in Chinatown. Hsiang-li sponsored me, otherwise I’d have to use the same banks as everyone else, and ISI would probably have found my account by now.”

“Wouldn’t ISI have already traced the bank through your traveler’s checks?”

“My bank doesn’t offer that service. I paid cash for them at another bank that does, and since they don’t know me, that’s a dead end for ISI.”

Becoming aware he still held out the money-belt, he said, “Well, are you going to put it on?”

She took it from him, fastened it around her waist, and smoothed her shirt over it. Turning sideways to look in the mirror, she asked, “Does it make me look fat?”

“I don’t even notice it.”

She gave him a laughing glance. “Aren’t you afraid I’m going to run off with your money?”

“No. In fact, you can have it.”

She looked at him aghast. “I can’t take your money.” Reaching under her shirt, she started to remove the belt.

He put a hand on her arm. “Keep it for now. If we get separated, or if anything happens to me, you’ll need it to get back home.”

“Nothing’s going to happen to you,” she said fiercely.

He nodded as if he agreed and did not mention the sense of foreboding that made his shoulder blades itch.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Seven by Seven by Seven

7A fellow author tagged me in a game on Facebook the other day where authors were supposed to “Go to either page 7 or 77 of your manuscript. Count down 7 lines, then copy the next 7 lines to your status. Then tag 7 other writers.”

I don’t like tagging people because it seems rude to include them in a game they didn’t ask to play, but still, all those sevens caught my attention, so I thought I’d play out the game here. Feel free to tag along!

A SPARK OF HEAVENLY FIRE

He ushered her toward a battered red Honda Accord that looked as if it could have been one of the first models off the assembly line.

“It has close to two hundred thousand miles on it,” he said proudly, opening the door for her.

To her relief, the heater worked.

They headed down the long sweeping driveway.

MORE DEATHS THAN ONE

“Then he met you,” Kerry murmured, “and found contentment once again.”

Bob swallowed. “Yes. After he finished telling me the story of the figurines, he said a consortium of Japanese executives had approached him. They wanted The Lotus Room for a conference center, and he decided to sell it to them. He said his dreams of looking for the gold Buddha had faded, but he wanted to find the remains of his wife and child, and give them a proper burial.”

LIGHT BRINGER

“We were inept.” He clamped his mouth shut. The challenging assignments in exotic locales he’d expected when he transferred to Teodora Zaroff’s unit had not materialized, and now it looked as though they never would. He’d have been better off staying in Identification; the work was as elementary, but at least he’d be back in the real world where things made sense most of the time.

DAUGHTER AM I

Once inside, they could barely move around. A folded rollaway bed, a shallow wooden cabinet, a metal desk and chair took up most of the available space.

“A secret room,” Mary breathed. “It’s like something out of Nancy Drew or the Hardy boys.”

“It’s a storage area,” Bill said.

“Then where’s the door?”

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+

More Names Than One: Fiction Made Real

The other day I was getting gas when a truck pulled up next to me. It looked familiar in a dream-like way, but I didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until I started driving away that it dawned on me what I was seeing. A truck delivering Singha beer. I’d needed a Thai beer for my novel More Deaths Than One and just picked the name out of a guidebook, but somehow it didn’t seem real. At least not until I saw that truck. Here is the excerpt from the novel where I mentioned the beer:

In his short-sleeved shirt imprinted with red, green, and yellow parrots, Bob felt like a tourist. He even found himself gazing around as if he’d never visited the place before.

He saw a couple of the other regulars, a German and an American—both mercenaries—but most of the people were strangers to him, including the four men sitting at the next table. They seemed to be Americans of the right age to have fought in Vietnam. A man in a Yankees baseball cap waved his arms for emphasis.

“I did my job,” Bob heard him say. “Then I got out and continued on with my life. Everything’s great. My life is full. It happened so long ago. I don’t understand what the big deal is.”

The haunting strains of “Hey Jude” filtered through the room.

“What are you going to have?” Kerry asked.

“A Singha in honor of Harrison. It’s a local beer he liked. Also a hamburger with fries.”

When a giggling young waitress approached, Kerry ordered hamburgers, fries, and Singhas for both of them.

Hamburger Dan brought their drinks.

Setting them on the table, he gave Bob a penetrating glance. “It is you. I wasn’t sure at first. How’ve you been—”

Before Hamburger Dan could speak his name, Bob said quickly, “Gandy. I’m Rick Gandy and this is Julie Walsh.”

Hamburger Dan’s eyebrows rose. “I see. Does this have anything to do with the two men sitting in the booth across the room?”

Bob lifted his drink to his lips and gazed over the top of the mug. The men in question leaned back in their seats with studied nonchalance, but their eyes were hard and way too alert—cop’s eyes.

“My supposed friends?” Bob asked.

“Right. They’ve been in and out for the past six weeks or so, but after you called they started spending a lot of time here.”

“Something you should know. Your phone is tapped.”

Hamburger Dan stiffened. “What’s going on? What are you involved with?”

“I have no idea, but I’m looking into it.”

“You?” Hamburger Dan had the grace not to smile, but Bob could sense his incredulity.

Seeing the light of battle in Kerry’s eyes and her mouth opening to come to his defense, Bob laid a hand on her knee. She closed her mouth, but her jaw remained set.

The waitress brought their hamburgers. The delicious aroma of grilled meat made Bob’s stomach growl with hunger.

“I’ll leave you to your food,” Hamburger Dan said. “I shouldn’t stay here too long anyway, don’t want to draw the attention of your friends.”

Kerry’s gaze followed him as he moved off, then it shifted to Bob.

“How come he talked to you like that? Doesn’t he know you’re the Bob Noone character in Dark Side of Heroes?”

“I doubt it. Now that Harrison’s gone, you’re probably the only one who knows. And if by chance Hamburger Dan does know, he still wouldn’t be impressed. He’d think Noone was a wimp.”

“Oh.” She took a big bite of her hamburger and ate it slowly. “How did you come up with the names Rick Gandy and Julie Walsh?”

“They slipped out. I decided we shouldn’t advertise the names we’re traveling under.”

“Good thinking.” She chewed on a French fry. “I’m beginning to have as many identities as you. It’s confusing.”

Bob nodded. Munching on his own hamburger, he let his glance fall on the other bar patrons.

“Mike seemed like a brother to me,” the man in the Yankee baseball cap said, tears brimming over. “I tried to save him, but there was nothing I could do.”

The men with the cop’s eyes stood, took a final look around, then sauntered out of the bar, still main-taining their casual air.

Bob felt his shoulders sag with relief.

As he continued to eat, he could hear the gaunt man playing “Let It Be.”

More Deaths Than One is available at Amazon, Smashwords, and Second Wind Publishing.