Wednesday Sampler: Secrets of the Dead by Caleb Pirtle III

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In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a series featuring writing samples from some of the best novels in the marketplace today. Wednesday’s Sampler is an excerpt from Secrets of the Dead by Caleb Pirtle III a noir suspense thriller set in the days prior to World War II.

As one reviewer said: Caleb Pirtle’s Secrets of the Dead offers every element you want in a thriller. There is espionage involved with those early days of hostilities in Germany that led to World War II. It is full of suspense. It is a wild thrill ride. It even has a touch of romance between a tormented American operative and a Jewish girl on the brink of forever losing her way of life. Nothing in the story is ever as it seems.

The Story

Ambrose Lincoln is one of the government’s prized operatives, a trained assassin, a man whose past is continually erased by mind control tactic and shock treatments.

His days have no meaning. He no longer fears death. As far as he is concerned, a man without a memory is a man who’s already dead.

From Germany come rumors of a mad man threatening to rule Europe and maybe the world. On the Night of Broken Glass, his browns shirts and storm troopers move into Baden-Baden and begin their methodical termination of the Jews.

In America, so far away, the violence is nothing more than a protest over a Jewish boy who murdered a German diplomat because the Third Reich had removed and maybe killed his family. It was simply a case of vandalism that got out of hand. No one is concerned, and the American government wants to keep it that way. No one in Washington wants to go to war with Hitler, and President Roosevelt continues to preach neutrality.

But word is leaked that one Jewish photographer took pictures of the rampage of brutality and murder that night. He was killed, but his daughter is in hiding with the film. Ambrose Lincoln is dispatched to Baden-Baden with one charge. Find the film and bring it back. It will tell the truth. It will uncover the lies. The photographs will reveal to the world the sadistic threat that exists for everyone if Hitler’s mad march isn’t stopped.

His mission is to uncover the deadly secrets that his own government doesn’t want him to find, secrets that can change history.

The Sampler

Caleb Pirtle III
Caleb Pirtle III

EVEN THE LATE October sky wore black to her funeral. Ambrose Lincoln forced himself to look again into the face of his wife. So young. So pale. So soft. So dead. But who was she? The face of his wife was no more familiar than a face in a second-hand magazine.

He hoped she had died quickly. He hoped she had not experienced pain. He hoped her final breath had been as easy to take as the first breath of a sleeping child.

The wind had blown her dark hair haphazardly and cruelly across her face. Lincoln reached down and gently brushed it away from her eyes. She no longer minded. He did.

Lincoln had no idea how she died.

No one had told him.

He had not asked.

Ambrose Lincoln had been sitting alone in a dark room on the eighth floor of the Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas when the phone rang.

It was sixteen minutes past midnight.

He wasn’t asleep.

He picked up the phone and listened.

That’s what he had been taught.

Don’t talk.

Listen.

He waited.

“Ambrose Lincoln?”

“It is.”

“Your flight leaves in two hours and forty-two minutes.”

“Airline?”

“United.”

He didn’t ask where he was going.

Ambrose Lincoln never asked where.

His ticket would tell him.

That would be soon enough.

“It’s your wife,” the voice said.

Nothing.

Lincoln kept waiting.

“She’s dead.”

“The funeral?”

“Tomorrow.”

Lincoln broke his own code.

“Is that where I’m going?” he asked.

“It is.”

“Home?”

“Memphis.”

The phone went dead.

Ambrose Lincoln had heard the voice before.

Harsh.

And brittle.

Somewhere in the distant past.

Then again, it may not have been so distant.

The flight to Memphis had taken less than three hours, even with the angry turbulence of December slamming against the propellers. It was still dark when the plane touched down. Lincoln took a taxi to the Peabody Hotel, grabbed three hours of sleep, and emptied two cups of straight, hot coffee down his throat. He walked out to wait for the limousine, as black as the day had broken.

He had not called for the limousine.

He knew it would be there.

It always was.

The gathering storm clouds hung like a flannel shroud above the graveyard, ominous and foreboding, not unlike the face of the bald-headed stranger who stood ramrod straight just behind a mound of red clay that would forever remove the young woman from her place on earth.

His eyes, as hard as cracked marble, never left Ambrose Lincoln.

Lincoln dismissed him with a glance.

But he burned the man’s image deep into his brain. He didn’t know why. But he wanted to remember the man even if he never saw the stranger again. Not quite six feet tall. Square chiseled face. Pencil mustache. Sloped shoulders. A scar that could easily be mistaken for a half moon carved just below his left ear. A nervous right eye, or was it just lazy? It was difficult to tell behind the lens of his wire spectacles. He wore a suit as black as the sky, perfectly tailored, with a raincoat to match. If the man had a gun, it was well hidden. Lincoln had no idea why he even thought that the stranger might be carrying a gun.

He heard the minister quote the twenty-third Psalm.

Something about the valley of the shadow of death.

It sounded familiar.

Ambrose Lincoln promptly forgot it.

He looked again at the wooden rosewood coffin placed gingerly on the rails of a metal bier. It had been opened. A brusque wind ruffled the dark hair of his wife.

She no longer cared.

It no longer mattered.

He heard a woman softly cry.

She had hugged his neck when he arrived. She said she was his mother.

A tall man wearing a gray suit that would have been new in 1929 and probably worn less than a half dozen times since, lay a hand on Lincoln’s shoulder. The man had the crude, powerful grip of steel worker.

He said he was Lincoln’s father. A kindly Midwestern face, trying to smile but failing miserably. Gray eyes, the ashen color of the tombstones around them. The wind and sun had not been kind to him. He stared hard into the eyes of Ambrose Lincoln waiting for a flicker of recognition.

Lincoln nodded and turned away without speaking.

Something was wrong.

He did not know what it was.

But he felt it.

It bore into his gut like a gunshot, the kind God ignored and did not heal.

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