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.
This is the beginning of the first Chapter of More Deaths Than One, available from Second Wind Publishing.
“What do you think of a guy who embezzles from his own business?”
Bob Stark recognized the voice of the graveyard shift waitress, the attractive one with the black hair. He glanced up from his contemplation of the scars on the laminated plastic table and saw her standing by his booth, gazing at him, her eyebrows quirked. She seemed to expect a response, but he had no idea what to say. And why would she ask him such a question? Though he’d been coming to Rimrock Coffee Shop for four weeks now, she’d never deviated from her standard lines of “What’ll you have?” and “Here you go.”
He took a surreptitious look around. Except for the two drunks arguing in a corner booth and a cook cleaning the grill in the kitchen, he and the waitress were the only two people in the twenty-four-hour coffee shop.
Beneath the overly long bangs, her dark eyes gleamed, giving him the impression of laughter. “Yes, I am talking to you.”
“I’ll have hot chocolate,” he said, adhering to the unwritten script.
With a flip of her wrist, she brushed the hair off her face. Her skirt flounced as she whirled away from the table, and Bob noticed that she had nicely muscled thighs. Good calves, too. Not wanting her to catch him staring, he picked up a newspaper someone had left behind and leafed through it.
The waitress returned with his beverage. “What would you do if you were a girl who just found out her boyfriend is embezzling from himself?”
Bob stirred his hot chocolate, trying to think of the right response, but nothing came to mind.
“Men!” she said, hurrying off to answer the ringing telephone.
Later, after the drunks had stumbled out into the night, she came back to Bob’s table carrying a cup of coffee for her and another cup of hot chocolate for him.
He raised his palms. “I didn’t order this.”
She sat across from him. “Let’s not quibble over details.” She sipped her coffee, eyes laughing at him over the rim of the cup, then she set the empty cup aside.
Folding her arms on the table, she leaned forward and stared into his face. “What do you have to say for yourself? And who are you? You’ve been coming in here every night, real late, and you never talk except to order hot chocolate.”
She leaned back. “I bet you can’t sleep. That’s why you come, isn’t it? What’s the problem? Bad dreams?”
Bob felt a shudder go through him. He came here to get away from the nightmares, not remember them. He took a gulp of chocolate, grateful for the warmth sliding down his throat.
“You’re a shy one,” she said. “And you never did answer my question.”
He lifted one shoulder in a disinterested shrug. “You asked a lot of questions.”
“The one about the girl finding out that her boyfriend is embezzling from himself.”
“Depends on their relationship. Is she involved in the business?”
“She helped him start it, works in the office during the day, and waits tables at night to pay the rent.”
“Then he’s embezzling from her, too.”
She flicked the hair out of her eyes. “You’re right. God, what a fool I’ve been. Ever since I found out he’s been cheating on his business, I’ve been wondering if he’s been cheating on me. That son of a rabid dog. He promised we’d get a house together as soon as the business did well enough, and it turns out we could have been living in our own place for several months now.”
“Even if he’s not cheating on you physically,” Bob said, “he’s cheated on you morally.”
“I want someone who’s honest and true to himself, someone who likes and respects himself so he can like and respect me. Is that too much to ask?”
The door opened. A young couple entered. Mouths locked together, they slid into a booth and groped beneath each other’s clothes.
The waitress stood. “I better go remind them this isn’t a motel.”
Grateful to be alone, Bob sipped his hot chocolate and read the newspaper.
The Broncos still reeled from their humiliation at the previous Super Bowl, having lost to the Redskins forty-two to ten.
Two youths found a man’s decomposing body in a culvert off the South Platte River. The man had been tortured; the work of a gang, the police surmised.
Silverado faced insolvency, having squandered one hundred million dollars on bad loans.
And Lydia Loretta Stark was dead. Again.
Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado and a lifelong resident. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book — character and story driven novels that can’t easily be slotted into a genre — she decided to write her own.More Deaths Than One was Bertram’s first novel to be published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC. Also available are Daughter Am I and A Spark of Heavenly Fire.