Thursday teaser: Place of Skulls

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By Caleb Pirtle III

AMBROSE LINCOLN watched the ragged edges of night paint the streets below and waited for the dead man to step from the shadows. They were never together, he and the dead man.

They were seldom apart.

They had never spoken.

Their eyes had not yet met.

Death was the only thing they had in common.

Often Lincoln had wondered which of them had really survived and which was destined to roam the earth in search of an empty grave.

The air around him was always thick with the acrid smell of gun smoke when the dead man was near. It burned his throat. His chest hurt. He screamed the first time he saw the man whose chest had been torn away with a hollow point slug from a 9mm handgun, his 9mm handgun. The screaming was no longer necessary.

The past held its secrets in a tightly closed fist, and only on rare occasions did the fingers of another time, another place, loosen their grasp long enough to provide faint glimpses of what was, what might have been, and what did or did not happen on the landscape of a man’s faith or his memory.

On those rare occasions, his beliefs could be shaken, even shattered, and his hopes dimmed or perhaps darkened forever. Only these words echoed from a distant past: he was wounded for our transgressions. And he had no idea who had said them or what they meant or why only those six words had slipped past the ebony wall that separated time between then and now.

Ambrose Lincoln often thought a man was the most content when he was left in the dark, past and present. He might still fear the shadows. He just had no idea what secrets lay enclosed and mostly forgotten within them.

A man was better off, he reasoned, when he didn’t know. Knowledge could condemn him, convict him, and maybe even kill him. He was wounded for our transgressions. He thought he heard a woman’s voice speaking them. But she was so far away, whoever she was, wherever she had been.

Lincoln stood alone in his small, cluttered hotel room with a stranger who had no past, at least not one worth remembering, and a future just as dark and oblique. The stranger was a man he knew well and hardly at all.

The stranger was himself.

Lincoln’s memory programmed everything he saw and heard. Nothing escaped him.

Graveyards were full of men who ignored or overlooked the things, no matter how insignificant, that could get them killed.

Yet his memory had blown a circuit five years earlier, the night he awoke in a churchyard outside the battle-scarred, charcoal ruins of a crumbling little town in Poland – Ratibor he thought it was. He possessed no wallet, no papers, no passport, no name, no memory, no past. All of his yesterdays had become as vacant as the churchyard, his mind as pitch black as the night around him.

Lincoln had closed his eyes and felt himself falling beyond the crevice of sanity and into the black abyss of a deep sleep. He wondered if the grave would be as dark, if he would ever wake up again and why his frostbitten feet hurt worse than his chest.

When morning at last jarred him awake, he lay on a pile of blankets that served as a prison hospital bed and stared for a long time into a cracked mirror that hung crookedly on a green wall across the bare, sterile room.

The confused face of an unfamiliar, broken man with dark, sullen and hollow eyes stared back at him.
It was, he thought, an ugly face, unshaven and scarred, obviously belonging to some pitiful bastard who had been cast into the drunken innards of hades to cut cards with the devil himself. What troubled him most, however, then as now, was the stranger’s face had been his own.

Lincoln closed his eyes and tried to squeeze the blur that was Poland out of his mind. But the biting cold of the snow, the pain that threatened to rupture his lungs with each ragged breath, the smell of gunpowder, the stench of death all lay upon his psyche, as visible to him as the scar on his face.

The scars did not heal.

About Place of Skulls

A man with no known past and no name has been dispatched to the deserts, ghost towns, and underbelly of drug-infested Mexico to uncover a secret that could forever change the scope and teachings of Christianity.

A DEA agent has written that he possesses the unmistakable and undeniable proof that Christ did indeed return to earth again and walk the land of the Aztecs almost fifteen hundred years after his crucifixion on the cross. But has the agent found a relic? An artifact? A long lost manuscript of the written Word? No one knows, and the agent dies before he can smuggle the secret out of an empty grave.

Ambrose Lincoln can’t dig past the charred fragments of his memory, but he must unravel the legend of Quetzalcoatl, the white-skinned, blue-eyed, god figure whose sixteenth century ministry, death, resurrection, and mystical promise to return someday to gather up his people closely parallels the Biblical story of the man called Christ. Is Quetzalcoatl merely a myth, or was he Christ Himself?

Lincoln’s quest to find the answers, he becomes involved in a rogue CIA plot to invade Mexico and wage an unholy war on drugs, financed by operatives working for Hitler’s Germany. He finds himself pursued by the same mysterious assassin who struck down the DEA agent.

Does the artifact actually exist? Who possesses it now? Lincoln battles an unseen and unknown enemy in an effort to survive long enough to discover the truth. If he doesn’t, he knows that death awaits him on the desert sands of a land held sacred for centuries by the mysterious and holy ones.

Place of Skulls is the fourth noir thriller in the Ambrose Lincoln series, which also includes:

About the author

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of more than seventy books, including the Ambrose Lincoln series.

 

Prior to Place of Skulls, Pirtle’s most recent novel is Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever.

Pirtle is a graduate of The University of Texas in Austin and became the first student at the university to win the National William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing. Several of his books and his magazine writing have received national and regional awards.

Pirtle has written three teleplays, and wrote two novels for Berkeley based on the Gambler series: Dead Man’s Hand and Jokers Are Wild.

Pirtle’s narrative nonfiction, Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk is a true-life book about the fights and feuds during the founding of the controversial Giddings oilfield and From the Dark Side of the Rainbow, the story of a woman’s escape from the Nazis in Poland during World War II. His coffee-table quality book, XIT: The American Cowboy, became the publishing industry’s third best selling art book of all time.

Pirtle was a newspaper reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and served ten years as travel editor for Southern Living Magazine. He was editorial director for a Dallas custom publisher for more than twenty-five years.

Learn more about Caleb on his:

And follow him on Twitter @CalebPirtle

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Monday musing: Writing, like life, depends on which road you take

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By Caleb Pirtle III

This post originally appeared in Caleb and Linda Pirtle’s blog on February 22, 2017.

Writing is like life. You can take any road you want. Each has a different story.

Each choice has a consequence you have to live with for the rest of your life.

“WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?” I asked the old man sitting in the back chair at the back table of a writer’s conference.

He looked at me strangely, a puzzled expression on his face.

“Writing?” he asked.

“Writing a novel,” I said.

“Do you know anything about life?” he asked.

“Not a lot.”

He shrugged as though I was helpless, and he was probably right.

“Learn about life,” he said, sipping on a free cup of cold coffee. “Then you’ll know how to write a novel.”

He paused and watched a spider meander aimlessly across the ceiling.

The speaker droned on.

Hadn’t said anything yet.

Doubted if he would.

“It’s all about choices,” the old man said.

“Life?” I asked.

“Novels, too,” he said. “Stories are about the choices we make. Nothing more. Nothing less.”

“What kind of choices?” I wanted to know.

“When I was a young man,” he said, “I could go to work, or I could go to college. I had a choice to make.”

“What’d you do?”

“Went to work.” He shrugged again. “Couldn’t afford college.”

I forgot the speaker.

I gave the old man my full attention.

“If I hadn’t gone to work,” he said, “I would have never gone to Oklahoma City.”

He grinned.

“If I hadn’t gone to Oklahoma City,” he said, “I would have never gone into the Boots and Saddles bar.”

The old man leaned forward, his elbows on the table.

“If hadn’t gone in the bar,” he said, “I would have never met Mary Ann McClure.”

He was cleaning out the cellar of his memory now.

“If I had never met Mary Ann McClure,” he said, “I would have never quit my job and took the train to Omaha.”

“Why the train?” I asked.

“Didn’t have a car.”

“Why did you leave Oklahoma City?”

“Mary Ann McClure was a married woman.” He took another sip of his coffee. “I had a choice to make. I could stay, or I could run.”

“Was she worth fighting for?” I asked.

“She wasn’t worth dying for.”

“You think her husband would have killed you?” I wanted to know.

“He had a choice to make,” the old man said. “He could shoot me, or he could forget it, forgive Mary Ann, and let the whole sordid thing go.”

“He didn’t let it go, I guess.”

“Shot at me twice.”

“Did he hit you?”

“He wasn’t much of a lover, Mary Ann told me. He was an even worse shot.”

“What happened to Mary Ann?” I asked.

“She had a choice to make,” the old man said. “She could stay with him or leave.”

“Where would she go?”

“Certainly not with me.”

“How about divorce?”

“That was his choice.”

“What did he decide?”

“He and Mary Ann took a second honeymoon to Estes Park in the Rockies,” he said. “Love is a wonderful thing. So is forgiveness. They went hiking early one morning. She came back. He didn’t.”

“She kill him?”

“She said he fell.”

“Did they ever find the body?”

“The Ranger had a choice to make,” the old man said. “He could investigate a crime or spend the night with his primary suspect.”

“What’d he do?”

“Never found the body.”

“Anybody ever look for it?” I asked.

“No reason to.”

“Why not?”

“The missing man was never reported missing.”

The old man grinned.

The speaker was through.

And so was he.

I looked at him strangely, a puzzled expression on my face.

“Do you expect me to believe all of that?” I asked.

“Don’t care if you do,” he said. “Don’t care if you don’t.”

His grin grew wider.

He stood up and ambled toward the back of the room for another cup of coffee.

“That’s the choice you’ll have to make,” he said. “When you come to a crossroad, it’s all about choices.”

“How will I know which road to take?”

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “There is no wrong choice, but each choice has a consequence you have to live with for the rest of your life.”

Those were the last words I heard him say.

I waited for him.

There were other questions I wanted to ask.

But he was like the man on the mountain.

He didn’t come back.

In my Ambrose Lincoln series, Ambrose never knows which road he took until it’s too late.

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of more than seventy books, including four noir thrillers in the Ambrose Lincoln series: Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of LiesNight Side of Dark and Place of Skulls. Secrets and Conspiracy are now audiobooks on audible.com. His most recent novel is Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever.

Pirtle is a graduate of The University of Texas in Austin and became the first student at the university to win the National William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing. Several of his books and his magazine writing have received national and regional awards.

Pirtle has written three teleplays for major networks. His narrative nonfiction, Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk, is a true-life book about the fights and feuds during the founding of the controversial Giddings oilfield in Texas. From the Dark Side of the Rainbow is the story of a woman’s escape from the Nazis in Poland during World War II. His coffee-table book, XIT: The American Cowboy, became the publishing industry’s third-best selling art book of all time.

Pirtle was a newspaper reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and served ten years as travel editor for Southern Living Magazine. He was editorial director for a Dallas custom publisher for more than twenty-five years.

Get to know Caleb on his:

And follow him on Twitter @CalebPirtle.

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Monday musings: If the story turns you on, write about it

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By Caleb Pirtle III

This post is a re-blog from Venture Galleries.

How could my mystery and thriller novels be called historical fiction? They happened in my lifetime.

It appears that we have become locked into a publishing universe that is built on genre fiction, and the genres are changing just about every time the leaves on the trees either grow, turn green, become red and gold, or fall off. These days, it’s not out of the question to find books that are labeled paranormal and historical romantic suspense, a mystery and thriller with time travel. Confuses me.

I thought I wrote thrillers. And mysteries. That’s what I tried to do. That’s what I like to read. My bookshelves and my mind are filled with the fiction of Robert Ludlum, James Lee Burke, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, Lee Child, Jack Higgins, Ken Follett, and the boys.

But here’s the problem.

I am fascinated with the 1930s and 1940s. I have written three Ambrose Lincoln thrillers and have a fourth ready for release. All of them are set during World War II: Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies, and Night Side of Dark – with Place of Skulls waiting in the wings.

It was a glorious era. It was a mysterious era. So many rumors running rampant. So many mysteries lurking in the background. Too much intrigue to know the difference between fact and fiction, truth and contradiction.

It was the dawn of intelligence agencies whose operatives worked in the shadows and behind enemy lines. They were in places where danger lurked around every corner and behind every door. The agents of the United States, Great Britain, Russia, and Germany had their only little private wars going. Winner take all. Not everyone came home. Not everyone was supposed to.

Besides, the era had the greatest villain of all. He was a madman. He engineered a Holocaust. He wore a mustache, made fierce, fiery speeches, and was known to the world as Adolph Hitler. His was the face of evil.

And, of course, Russia had its own madman, Joseph Stalin. He was our friend then. He was our own personal bad guy. Stalin became our enemy as soon as the flames of atomic horror rose in a mushroom cloud above the cities of Japan. His face was just as evil.

We had what he desperately wanted. We had The Bomb. Stalin began building one of his own. And a war turned Cold.

Want to write a thriller? You can’t find a better era.

That’s what I thought. But now I’ve found that I haven’t written any thrillers at all. It was a grand era all right. It was the wrong era.

Now everyone wants to call my novels historical fiction. How could they be historical? They happened in my lifetime.

I was only a small child during World War II, but my father worked in a military plant that built bombs, and I heard him and my mother talking in hushed tones at night about men I didn’t know killing men I didn’t know in places I never heard of.

I was fascinated with what was going on. I still am. But it’s historical or so they say, and they’re probably right.

I could write about the present, and maybe I will. To me, however, there may be mysteries in a world that relies on computers and the digital speed of the Internet and cell phones, but there is little intrigue. There is little suspense.

Suspense is when the good guy is cornered in an alley on a dark street in Berlin with Gestapo agents trailing right behind, and he can’t find a telephone to warn someone that the German storm troopers will attack at dawn.

Where is a phone that works? How can he find it? Will he die before he gets there? And he knows he can’t escape to freedom until he finds that damn phone.

Now that’s suspense.

If he whips out a cell phone and makes that call, it’s ho-hum and time to spread a little more peanut butter on my bread since I know for sure everything is going to work out fine. Make the call. Look up the GPS coordinates on his hand-held computer. And hitch a ride on the helicopter that’s coming in under the cover of darkness.

It may be a really good story. It’s not the story I want to tell.

I want an operative who lives or dies on his own daring, wits, and ingenuity. I don’t want his fate decided by email or Twitter. So I guess I’ll keep writing historical fiction.

And I guess I’ll keep calling the books thrillers. Why change now?

A great writer, J. E. Fishman, penned a piece for Venture Galleries, and his advice for authors was this: “Write what turns you on.”

He’s right.

I do.

And so the battle rages on.

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Thursday teaser: Secrets of the Dead

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By Caleb Pirtle III

Lincoln descended the steps to the pavement. He was facing a strange town on a strange mission under strange circumstances at a strange time in his life.

Somehow, none of it seemed strange.

He may have only been walking the back alleys of his mind.

But he had been here before.

Or he had been to someplace that looked a lot like a dying Baden-Baden when the lights went out. Lincoln walked down the dark street and left the glow of the gaslight behind him. The snow against the building had melted. By morning, it would freeze again. The cold dug deep into an old wound just below the third rib on his left side. In time, the cold would end the pain as well.

Baden-Baden had become a town of silence.

No screams.

No whimpers.

It was as though the town was afraid to breathe, afraid to move, afraid.

On the platform, Captain Emmerich motioned toward the shadows. A small woman with red hair clipped to her neckline and wearing a black leather overcoat walked toward him. “Don’t lose the American,” he said. “Keep your distance, but keep your eyes on him. He will suspect one of us. He does not trust any of us. He will not suspect you. He will regard you as simply another misplaced woman who needs a little help. If he offers to help you, let him. But don’t lose him. He will lead us to the girl, and she will give us the film.”

“What about the American?” she asked.

“Don’t worry about the American.”

“Why not?”

“Leopold will take care of him.”

“Leopold is not here.”

Captain Emmerich smiled. “He will be when it’s time for the American to die,” he said.

Emmerich turned and walked away as the train left the station. The whistle blew, and it sounded like a cry in the night.

About Secrets of the Dead

Ambrose Lincoln is one of the government’s prized operatives, a trained assassin, a man whose past is continually erased by mind control treatments. He is dispatched to Baden-Baden after the Night of Broken Glass to find rolls of film that will tell the truth and 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. Lincoln’s mission is to uncover the deadly secrets that his own government doesn’t want him to find, secrets that can change history.

Get it from:

About the author

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of more than seventy books, including three noir thrillers in the Ambrose Lincoln series: Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies, and Night Side of Dark. Secrets and Conspiracy are now audiobooks on audible.com. The fourth book in the series, Place of Skulls, will be released during the spring of 2017. Pirtle’s most recent novel is Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever.

Pirtle is a graduate of The University of Texas in Austin and became the first student at the university to win the National William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing. Several of his books and his magazine writing have received national and regional awards.

Read more about Caleb on his

And follow him on Twitter @CalebPirtle.

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