Read More Deaths Than One Online

Authors: Pat Bertram

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More Deaths Than One

BOOK: More Deaths Than One
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More Deaths Than One

By

Pat Bertram

Published by Second Wind Publishing at
Smashwords

Second Wind Publishing, LLC

931-B South Main Street, Box 145

Kernersville, NC 27284

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, locations and events are either a product of the
author’s imagination, fictitious or use fictitiously. Any
resemblance to any event, locale or person, living or dead, is
purely coincidental.

 

Copyright 2008 by Pat Bertram

 

All rights reserved, including the right of
reproduction in whole or part in any format.

 

First Dagger Books edition published
December, 2008.

Dagger Books, Running Angel, and all
production design are trademarks of Second Wind Publishing, used
under license.

 

For information regarding bulk purchases of
this book, digital purchase and special discounts, please contact
the publisher at www.secondwindpublishing.com

 

Cover design by Pat Bertram

 

Manufactured in the United States of
America

 

ISBN 978-1-935171-25-6

 

Chapter 1

 

“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 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 cheating 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.

***

“I brought you another hot chocolate. It’s on
the house.” The young woman sat and peered at Bob. “Is something
wrong? You don’t look so good all of a sudden.”

He tried to ignore the ache inching up the
back of his head. “What would you do if you were reading today’s
paper and came across the obituary of your mother who’s been buried
for twenty-two years?”

She laughed. “Go to the funeral, of course.”
She must have realized Bob hadn’t meant to be funny, because the
mirth faded from her eyes. “You’re serious?”

“Dead serious.” He showed her the notice.

She read it aloud. “‘Lydia Loretta Stark,
sixty-six, of Denver, passed away August twenty-ninth, nineteen
eighty-eight, at four p.m. Preceded in death by husband Edward
Jackson. Survived by sons Edward Jackson, Jr. and Robert; six
grandchildren. Services and interment Friday, ten a.m., at Mountain
View Cemetery.’” She looked at him. “Are you Edward or Robert?”

“Robert. My brother is Edward, but he goes by
the name of Jackson.”

“What name do you go by?”

“Bob.”

“I’m Kerry. Kerry Casillas.” She eyed the
obituary. “How many of those children are yours?

Bob massaged the back of his neck.
“None.”

“Jackson’s been a busy boy.”

“Seems like it.”

“You don’t know?”

“I haven’t seen him since my mother’s
funeral—the first one, I mean. We never got along.”

She pushed back her hair. “So this is really
your mother’s obituary?”

“Could be. She died in nineteen sixty-six at
the age of forty-four and had no grandchildren at the time, but
everything else matches.”

“If it’s not a coincidence, it must be a
hoax.”

Bob shook his head, stopping abruptly when
pain shot to the top of his skull. “Why would anyone go through all
the trouble of putting a fake obituary in the paper? And who’s
being hoaxed? It can’t be me. No one knows I’m in Denver.”

***

On Friday, Bob made the trip to Mountain View
Cemetery. He wandered around the lush expanse, skirting formal
flower gardens and stepping over white gravestones lying flush with
the ground. The place seemed deserted, but as he topped a small
rise, he saw a funeral party spread out before him like a stage
play.

He paused beside a large clump of lilac
bushes and scanned the small crowd encircling the brass-trimmed
casket.

Everyone wore black except one young woman,
scarcely out of her teens, who had pasted on a skimpy red dress
that left no part of her voluptuous figure to the imagination. A
much older man had an arm draped around her, his hand cupping her
buttocks.

Bob recognized the man: his brother. Jackson
had been a good-looking boy, having inherited his father’s athletic
build and his mother’s blond beauty. He still looked good, though
Bob could see that too many years of hard living or hard drinking
had left their mark.

Bob’s headache returned in full force. He
closed his eyes and massaged his temples while breathing deeply.
When the pain abated, he glanced at the crowd again and noticed two
men with the tensed posture of police officers on duty standing off
to one side. They seemed familiar, but he couldn’t place them. As
if becoming aware of his scrutiny, they turned in his
direction.

He stepped closer to the lilac bush, out of
their line of vision.

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 around 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.

Head aching so much he could scarcely
breathe, he stood like stone. Not even his eyes moved as he watched
the rest of the ceremony.

When everyone left, he approached the casket.
He gazed at it, then turned to walk away. A flash of white caught
his attention—the headstone, lying discreetly off to the side,
ready to be inset: Lydia Loretta Stark, cherished wife, beloved
mother; adored grandmother; born March 10, 1922; died August 29,
1988.

“What the hell is going on?” he asked
aloud.

The mild expletive hung in the air until a
sudden breeze blew it away.

Chapter 2

 

Bob set his easel in the backyard and let his
fingers decide what to paint. His brain seemed to have disconnected
itself from the rest of him while it sorted out the preposterous
information it had received that morning at the funeral. Synapses
fired as the data hurtled around the neural network of his
cerebrum, and he could almost see the sparks of electricity they
generated, but he found no answer to the conundrum.

The sound of a gasp brought him out of his
trance. He turned around, palette in one hand, brush in the other,
and bumped into Ella Barnes, his landlady.

Twisting the skirt of her prim shirtwaist
dress in knobby fingers, she stared at the painting, then at him.
She disentangled her hands from her skirt, clutched her chest, and
hobbled across the yard.

Watching her disappear into the house, he
wondered why he frightened her. He shrugged and stepped back to
inspect his painting. It looked exactly as he had dreamed it:
impenetrable jungle, serene yet menacing, so real he could almost
smell the decay and feel the suffocating heat. He shivered. Perhaps
the painting radiated too much vileness, but at least he’d
transferred the image from his head to the canvas where it could no
longer torment him.

When the light faded, he packed his
materials, took them inside, and set out for Rimrock Coffee Shop on
Colfax Avenue. As he drifted along the street with the rest of the
strays, feeling as if he were one more nonentity with only fading
memories to show he had ever been real, he saw a man wearing a
homemade aluminum foil helmet.

The man accosted one pedestrian after
another, but they all dodged him and his shrill proclamation of
doom. “Why won’t anyone listen to me? Sissy’s going to get you. No
one is safe. They can get you like they got me.”

The man sidled up to Bob. “They’re going to
get you, too.”

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