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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