Saturday Sampler: Night Side of Dark by Caleb Pirtle III
February 20, 2016
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best works in the marketplace today. Saturday’s Sampler features an excerpt from Night Side of Dark, a noir thriller with a touch of mysticism by Caleb Pirtle III.
As one reviewer said: Caleb Pirtle’s Night Side of Dark is a noir thriller set in the dark days of World War II. The novel begins in a surreal world engulfed in darkness, then gives way to a brilliantly described war-torn Poland where the protagonist, Ambrose Lincoln, searches for a long-lost religious painting that the Nazis are also eager to have. I will spare you any spoilers, but will say that the painting in question is an ingenious invention that Dan Brown would envy.
American operative Ambrose Lincoln has no idea where he is or has been or where he’s going. He believes he has been to the night side of dark, a place of the first death, from which no one can return.
So why does he find himself on the bomb-ruined landscape of Poland, or has he been exiled to the second death? Lincoln only realizes, if the man in the shadows has not lied to him, he must find an ancient religious painting that has been missing for centuries.
The German Gestapo will pay a fortune to buy it, or take a man’s life to get it. The painting, if legend holds true, is the German hierarchy’s final and only chance to escape the onslaught of the war that is crumbling around their feet.
DR. BENJAMIN WAKEFIELD was not smiling and had no reason to smile as he walked into the warm, friendly confines of an office richly appointed with mahogany furniture. A good man lay on his table at the far end of the hallway, and the man might be dead by nightfall or by next week or a year from now. Only one thing was for certain. Ambrose Lincoln had been born and trained to die.
General Malcolm McDowell looked up and frowned.
Even when he was in a good mood, Wakefield knew the general was always frowning.
McDowell was a big man. Tall. Broad. Gray Hair. A face carved from worn granite. He wore a freshly starched uniform with four stars on his collar. He was no stranger to war. He was no stranger to the front lines. As he told those who cared, and Wakefield was one of the few who did, he had stared death in the face and walked away on more than one occasion. McDowell had never been a politician. He earned his stars the hard way – in combat. He possessed more Purple Hearts than stars .
“I’m waiting,” the General snapped. His voice was harsh. He glanced at his wristwatch. He was obviously a man running out of time.
“It’s almost over,” Dr. Wakefield said.
“The behavior modification will be completed before the end of the day,” the doctor said. “It won’t be an easy recovery.”
“What’s the delay?”
“In layman’s terms,” Dr. Wakefield said, “we have rearranged parts of his brain and linked them back to other parts of his brain. These parts are strangers to each other. Lincoln has been in shock. His mind will be in a very precarious position for the next few weeks.”
“I don’t have a few weeks.”
“You may have no choice.”
The General stood and brushed the wrinkles out of his coat. “I always have a choice,” he said. He walked to the window and watched the sun falling toward the top of a red bald mesa just beyond a stand of cottonwood trees. “Will the subject know his mission?”
“Lincoln never does.”
“Will he know the players?”
“He will recognize them when he sees them.”
“Will he know why?”
“No.” The doctor paused. He added in a soft voice, “But he may figure it out. He’s good at that.”
“Will it hurt his mission?”
“How can you be sure?”
“Lincoln never knows on which side of reality he is living.” Dr. Wakefield shrugged and smiled a sad smile. “It used to bother him. It doesn’t anymore. He goes where he is asked. He does what he is asked to do. He returns, and we take it all away from him again.”
“Is he human or robot?” The general’s face had not changed expression.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to tell,” the doctor said.
“And you’re the mastermind who created him.”
“Sometimes, when I think about what we have done, and how often we have done it,” Wakefield said, “I think we destroyed a good man.”
The General handed Dr. Wakefield a brochure from a motel on the west side of Tucumcari. “Call me when the procedure is over,” he said.
The General walked to the door, paused, and looked back over his shoulder. “What if he doesn’t wake up?” he asked.
“You scrub your mission.”
“You began with nine subjects if my memory is correct,” the General said.
“Select another one of them.”
“I can’t,” Wakefield said.
“You can’t, or you refuse?”
“The others are missing or dead,” Wakefield said.
“Where did you lose the missing?”
“We didn’t lose them,” Wakefield said. “Their bodies are in Ward C. Their minds are what’s missing.”
“We don’t have a map,” Wakefield said. “We only have a brain to work with, and the brain is a landscape that’s mostly unexplored. We know as much as anyone, and we’re still outsiders there.”
“How many millions of government dollars does it take for you and the brain to become better acquainted?” General McDowell asked. His face hardened, and he slammed the door behind him when he left.
Wakefield knew the general could handle the truth, but there were times when high military and political figures did not want to hear it.
The doctor waited until he heard the sound of the General’s jeep drive away before he collapsed in the big padded brown leather chair behind his desk. He massaged his temples with his fingers, hoping the headache would disappear but knowing it wouldn’t until he reached home and opened the Scotch. He wouldn’t need a jigger tonight. The bottle would do fine..
He thought of their faces – all nine of them – good young men, bright young men, all volunteers, none of them knowing exactly why they had been shipped to New Mexico and admitted to a hospital that could not be found on anyone’s map.
The facility remained as one of America’s most closely guarded secrets. It sat quietly back in a timbered valley on the edge of a desert. Wakefield made sure the clinic was accepted in the community as a rest and rehabilitation home for the wealthy scions of society who had come to partake of a high-dollar regimen of holistic medicine.
Dr. Wakefield had been an imminent psychiatrist and the country’s foremost authority on mind control, a frontier of medicine where few dared to venture and even fewer dared to talk about. The government hid him away in the desert, let him hire psychiatrists and psychologists as mad as he was, and paid him ungodly wages to test young men with odd and often experimental drugs, hypnosis, and electrical brain stimulation.
Nine began the program.
Only Ambrose Lincoln had survived. Wakefield kept Lincoln’s mind lost and wandering in the deep recesses of a dark and ominous netherworld, and he had long been reliant on the electric shocks that erased the man’s memory after each mission.
Lincoln no doubt feared them and dreaded them, but he once told Wakefield as they strolled the grounds after a treatment session had ended, “Maybe one of these days, I’ll become the man I used to be.”
“That’s what we hope,” the doctor said.
“What are the odds?”
“A lot better than you might think.”
Lying was not as difficult as it once had been.
Only the brain stimulation kept Lincoln sane. He wasn’t. But from his conversations with Wakefield, Lincoln thought he was.
In the long run, it didn’t really matter.
The poor bastard did not know it and might never know about it, but when he walked into the hospital a decade ago, he scratched his name on an official form and signed his life away.
But so had the General.
And apparently so had he.
Dr. Wakefield checked his watch.
Twenty minutes past four.
The procedure was over.
The lights had been dimmed.
The electricity no longer crackled in a man’s brain.
The general might be waiting.
He might be waiting for a long time.
Lincoln had already gone.