Excerpt from “A Spark of Heavenly Fire”

ASHFborderWith all the talk of Ebola, with all the scares and scaremongering, it’s hard for me not to shudder. I’d spent years researching viruses, bioengineering, bioweapons, and human experimentation (experiments humans did on each other) for my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and though I knew what could happen, I always thought that somehow we’d be able to bypass a real epidemic. It’s still possible, though it’s also possible that by the new year, there will be 1,000,000 victims of the Ebola virus.

Here is an excerpt from A Spark of Heavenly Fire detailing some of the things I discovered in my research. Oh, my. What wondrous creatures we humans are! The red death was my own creation, based on viruses that various scientists had played around with.

Excerpt:

Greg was sitting at his computer, trying unsuccessfully to access the Internet, when he heard someone plop down in the chair behind him. Assuming Olaf had stopped by for his morning chat, Greg smiled as he swiveled his chair around.

The smile faded when he saw Clara D’Onofrio regarding him with red-rimmed, feverish eyes that glowed against her abnormally pale skin.

“Are you okay?” he asked, hoping she wouldn’t take offense.

She made a small gesture with her hand as if to brush away his concern, opened her briefcase, and removed a sheaf of papers.

“I spent most of the night researching biological weapons,” she said. “You would not believe the stuff I found. Did you know that the entire genetic code for the Black Death has been mapped, and the genetic sequences have been posted on the web?”

Greg blinked, then shook his head no.

“Also cholera and smallpox. Smallpox! Who in their right mind would mess around with smallpox? It has killed more people over the ages than any other disease, claiming at least three hundred million victims in the twentieth century alone. Why did the World Health Organization spend ten years eradicating smallpox from the face of the earth when scientists all over the world now mass produce it?”

“If they eradicated it, where did the smallpox come from?” Greg asked.

“They eradicated it in the wild, but a lot of research facilities retained samples, including Ft. Detrick in Maryland.”

Clara riffled through her sheaf of papers and plucked one from the bunch. “It says here the Russians built an underground facility capable of growing eighty to one hundred tons—tons!—of the smallpox virus every year. Get this — they modified it genetically, combining the smallpox with Ebola and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, a brain virus.”

“Jeez,” Greg said, feeling sick to his stomach. “As if smallpox by itself weren’t lethal enough.”

“Tell me about it. What’s even worse, the collapse of the Soviet Union left hundreds of biological research scientists unemployed. Many of them took the smallpox with them when they went to work for other countries like Libya, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, India, and maybe even Israel and Pakistan. And of course, the United States.

“Can you imagine what would happen if any of the new strains of the disease escaped from the laboratory? They’d travel around the world so fast and kill so many people, it would make the red death appear inconsequential.”

“No, I can’t imagine it,” Greg said. “To be honest, I have a hard time imagining the red death, even though it’s happening now. It’s too big. Too many have died. I think that’s why I focus on the puzzle aspect — who created it, and why. It’s something my mind can comprehend.”

***

Until November 23, 2014, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available at 50% off from Smashwords, where you can download the novel in the ebook format of your choice. To get your discount, go here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire and use coupon code ST33W when purchasing the book. (After you read the book, posting a review on Smashwords would be nice, but not obligatory.)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Excerpt from “A Spark of Heavenly Fire”

ASHFborderStraight from today’s headlines! In the novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire, hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable disease called the red death. In an effort to stop the disease from spreading beyond the state of Colorado where the disease originated, the entire state is quarantined. In this dangerous world, Kate Cummings struggles to find the courage to live and to love. Investigative reporter Greg Pullman is determined to discover who unleashed the deadly organism and why they did it, until the cost — Kate’s life — becomes more than he can pay.

-

Excerpt:

After an uneventful day at work, Kate hurried home through the silent streets. More than half the houses she passed had fluorescent orange dots splashed on their front doors indicating that someone had died within. Beside some of those doors were small shrines or memorials—artificial flowers, crosses, dolls, teddy bears. Other houses were unlit, mute testimony that entire families had died.

A white unmarked delivery van stopped in front of a house that already had one fluorescent dot on the door. When two men jumped out of the truck and ran up the porch steps, she knew that soon another orange mark would appear next to the first.

She could hear the men lamenting the loss of the Broncos while they waited for someone to answer their knock. It seemed strange that they spoke of such a prosaic matter. Shouldn’t they be crying, “Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead,” as their counterparts during the Black Death had done?

As she neared the house, she could see the door open. An old woman with bowed head and trembling shoulders stood aside to let the two men enter.

Kate had passed the house by the time the men emerged with their burden, but she could hear the thud of the body when they threw it into the van.

She thought of Greg and how he had cradled Mrs. Robin’s body in his arms as he carried her down the alley and how he had gently laid her under a tree.

And how he had said he liked her, Kate, very much.

***

Until November 23, 2014, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available at 50% off from Smashwords, where you can download the novel in the ebook format of your choice. To get your discount, go here: A Spark of Heavenly Fire and use coupon code ST33W when purchasing the book. (After you read the book, posting a review on Smashwords would be nice, but not obligatory.)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Excerpt From More Deaths Than One

More Deaths Than OneDescription: 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.

Excerpt:

“My dad was a CO in the war,” Beth said proudly.

Bob shot a questioning glance at Scott. “A commanding officer?”

Scott snorted. “Not hardly. I registered as a con-scientious objector.”

“He got sent into combat,” Rose said. “Can you believe that?”

Bob drew back. “Combat? A lot of conscientious objectors, including Quakers have served in the military, but they were usually given duties like medic or clerk. I never heard of any being sent into combat.”

Scott shrugged. “Well, they sent me. I don’t know if it was a mistake or someone’s idea of a sick joke.”

“Dad wouldn’t fire his weapon,” Jimmy said. “He believes killing for any reason is wrong.”

“He won’t even kill bugs or spiders,” Beth added.

Kerry laid aside her fork. “It must have been terrible.”

Rose nodded. “They assigned him jobs of a particularly filthy or menial nature, like permanent latrine duty, trench digging, and retrieval of dead bodies.”

“Someone had to do it,” Scott said.

“I know, but they didn’t have to harass you the way they did.”

“They thought I was a coward, hiding behind my religious beliefs to get out of combat duty.” He sighed. “Maybe I was.”

“No you weren’t,” Rose said fiercely. “It took a lot of courage to maintain your dignity in the face of their hatred. And you always had to dodge bullets and skirt explosions on your way to rescue injured men.”

She turned to Kerry. “During combat he had to get the wounded out of the line of fire and to help the medic care for them.”

Kerry’s eyes widened. “I can’t even begin to comprehend the strength it must have taken to survive not only a combat zone, but the torment of one’s own countrymen.”

“I had my faith to sustain me,” Scott said.

Beth shuddered. “They shot my dad.”

“The bullet gouged a furrow on my thigh, a flesh wound.” Scott smiled. “In the movies they always say, ‘It’s just a flesh wound,’ as if it’s nothing, but mine hurt like the dickens. They wouldn’t give me many painkillers, either. One nurse pompously told me they didn’t want us wounded soldiers getting addicted so they cut back, but another nurse whispered that the hospital workers had used the drugs themselves for fun. They must have received new supplies, because I didn’t notice much after those first few days—they kept me doped—but I do remember being transferred to a hospital in the Philippines.”

“Can you believe they sent him back to Vietnam after that?” Rose said. “It makes me furious thinking about it.”

Scott reached across the table and grasped her hand. “When I got back, my sergeant said to me, ‘Now that you know being a conscientious objector doesn’t keep you from getting wounded or even killed, are you ready to do your duty as a combat soldier?’ ‘I have no control over the actions of other people,’ I told him. ‘If the VC choose to shoot me, there’s not much I can do about it. The only choice I have is whether or not to shoot them, and I will not kill anyone.’ He glared at me and ordered me to get out of his sight and to keep out of his sight, because I disgraced the U.S. Army.”

Scott kept silent for a time while his family gazed sympathetically at him. Bob watched them, thinking the man had more than his faith to sustain him.

Scott drew in a breath. “Everyone still treated me the same until after the next engagement. We were under heavy fire, and many of our guys got wounded. I kept busy hauling injured men away from the front line. Afterwards, the sergeant came to me and said, ‘Glad to see you finally got some balls.’ The others guys stopped ostracizing me as if by getting shot I had passed some sort of test, like an initiation, but sometimes I could hear them snickering at me behind my back.”

“Do you think maybe you changed?” Kerry asked.

“No. Well, in little ways, of course. I became more self-confident, knowing I had never wavered in my beliefs even though my faith had been severely tested, and occasionally I have nightmares that make me sick to my stomach, but for the most part I’m the same as always.”

Kerry pushed aside her plate, folded her arms on the table, and gave Scott an intent look. “What kind of nightmares?”

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I can’t.”

“Sure you can,” Jimmy said. “You always say we can do anything.”

Rose gazed at Scott with anxious eyes. “Maybe you should tell her, dear. You have always refused to talk about your nightmares, even to us, but perhaps it’s time.”

“Go ahead, Dad,” Beth chimed in. “You can tell Kerry.”

“But what if you find out my life is a lie?” Scott asked his wife. “What if you find out I’m an evil person?”

Rose looked at him in astonishment. “Evil? You?”

“In my dreams I am.”

“But those are only dreams.”

Scott held her gaze. After a moment he spoke in a voice so low Bob could barely make out his words. “In one of my dreams, the VC is firing on us. I see a man down. He’s hurt badly and is trying to crawl away. I go to help him, but before I drag him to safety, I take his M-16 from him. I don’t know why. I just do it. Then, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, I shoot the VC. I see blood spurting out of the men I shoot, and I hear their screams, but I keep shooting. When the rifle is empty, I return the weapon to the injured soldier, who is staring at me as if he can’t believe what he saw. He laughs, and I awaken with the sound of his laughter still echoing in my ears.

“All the dreams I have are similar to that one, but they involve different firefights and different men, as if I killed many times.

“I don’t know what these dreams mean. I don’t know why I dream them. But the idea that I murdered people, even if only in my dreams, makes me so sick I have to vomit. Sometimes after I’ve thrown up I feel as if I’ve gotten rid of the evil, but other times I feel as if the evil is a permanent part of me, and I wonder if somehow I did do those things.”

He looked at Bob with sad, sad eyes. “But it is only a dream, right?”

Download (free) the first 30% of: More Deaths Than One

Click here to buy: More Deaths Than One on Amazon

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Excerpt from LIGHT BRINGER

Description of Light Bringer by Pat Bertram :

LBBecka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? What do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area? And how does Jane fit into the puzzle?

Excerpt from Light Bringer:

Realizing Mac was waiting for her reaction, Jane said in a noncommittal voice, “You saw a UFO.”

Mac winced. “UFO? No. An FO. There was nothing unidentified about it. I knew exactly what I saw.”

“An extraterrestrial space ship,” she said flatly.

“Of course not, and aliens didn’t abduct me, either. It happened right after I closed on this property. Unable to sleep, I drove out here and was leaning against my rental car looking at the stars when the crescent flew directly overhead. I could see it as plainly as I’m seeing you right now.

“The craft was about fifteen feet in diameter, made of a composite ceramic. A remarkably conductive amalgam of the most refined copper and the purest silver coated its underside, turning it into an electrical circuit offering no resistance to the wave of electromagnetic energy it floated on. It was absolutely silent, sweeping in ions from its flight path, like a whale feeding on plankton. The ionized air around it glowed, giving it an unearthly look, but it was very much terrestrial in origin.”

Jane lifted her hands and let them drop. “How could you learn all that from one brief sighting?”

“I was part of a team working on a craft exactly like it, only we hadn’t been able to get ours off the ground, at least not then.”

She regarded him warily.

“I’m not insane,” he said, answering her unvoiced question. “I’m an aerospace engineer, retired from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena.”

It took a minute or two for the significance of his story to register. “I see. You think Stellar Optics was a cover for a space telescope project, which was a cover for the real project—the development of a flying saucer.”

He didn’t respond, but he didn’t contradict her, either.

***

Where to buy Light Bringer:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

iStore (on iTunes)

Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo)

Excerpt from LIGHT BRINGER by Pat Bertram

Description of Light Bringer:

LBBecka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

Excerpt from Light Bringer:

As Special Assistant to the Director of Logistics and Deployment, Teodora, also known as The Fixer, had the best and brightest operatives the department had to offer. Intelligence agencies all over the world recommended their top young agents, hoping to cement their relationship to the powerful organization. The Deputy Director of the FBI himself had written recommendations for Keith Derrick and Hugh Wittier, mentioning their athletic accomplishments, superior scholastic standings at their respective Ivy League Universities, and exceptional performances at the FBI academy.

Teodora studied the two handsome young men visible on the split screen of her computer. They might have impressive pedigrees and extensive training, but they were unskilled liars. She didn’t even need the voice stress analyzer built into her computer to tell her they were deviating from the truth; changes in the size of their pupils and arrested movements of their hands betrayed them. Unfortunately, she could not tell which specific incident they were lying about; their involuntary reactions had begun as soon as Keith opened his mouth to give the report.

They would not be concerned with her knowing they had presented themselves as NSA agents; all her operatives used whatever tools were necessary to get the job done. They would not be concerned with her knowing about the stolen car; they had reported it immediately. They would not be concerned with her knowing the subject had apparently been expecting them or that he had assumed they were interested in the books he read. That left the man—the tall bearded man wearing dark sunglasses and a green tracksuit—who had come out of the bedroom aiming a pistol.

If this gunman did exist, who was he? The subject had no close friends. They only knew about Emery Hill because the operatives found a note wedged in the rear of a desk drawer when they had gone back and combed the apartment.

If the gunman did not exist, how had the subject escaped? And why? Hugh and Keith had been sent simply to ask him what he knew about his mother’s cousin and her ward.

Teodora made a mental note to have her computer technicians look deeper into the subject’s background, then gave the operatives her undivided attention.

Hugh stared out at her from the computer screen. “Why are we looking for these women?”

“They have information.”

“We still have not found out what Hansen knows about them,” Keith said, “and the only item we found in his apartment that might be germane is the photograph album we sent you.”

“Is your fax machine set up?”

Keith nodded.

She faxed them one of the photographs her technicians had altered to show what the females might look like today. Keith reached for the fax, scrutinized it, then handed it to his partner.

A faint line appeared between Hugh’s brows. “I saw the younger woman walk by the coffee shop in Chalcedony.”

Keith snatched the picture and gave it a second look. “I didn’t see her.”

Hugh lifted one shoulder in a barely perceptible shrug.

Teodora made certain that her expression remained blank, but she could not keep her heart from beating faster.

“Find her,” she said.

***

Where to buy Light Bringer:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

iStore (on iTunes)

Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo)

Conversation With Rami Ungar

Author Rami Ungar are doing a blog exchange today. He is interviewing me on his blog, and I am interviewing him on mine.  On his blog, I answer the questions you always wanted to know about me, such as how I got into writing and what books I would take with me if I were stranded on a desert island. So be sure to check out my interview: Conversations with Pat Bertram.

Meantime, meet Rami Ungar.

snakeRami, What is your book about?

“Snake” is about a young man (and I mean young) whose girlfriend is kidnapped over the phone. Later events cause him to have a break with his sanity and he becomes a serial killer, determined to hunt down every member of the mafia family that has his girlfriend. It’s a very dark thriller, and it’s very unusual to have the serial killer as a protagonist. I’m hoping that will allow people to enjoy the story more, though. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

I guess maybe it was the movie “Taken”. Yeah, there are plenty of similarities, but it’s definitely it’s own story. That’s actually what I wanted: I wanted to create a much darker story than “Taken” portrayed, though that was pretty dark in itself. I like to think I’ve succeeded in that respect. We’ll see what the reviewers say.

What was the most difficult part about writing the book?

Probably time and school work. You want to devote all your time to writing, but inevitably things get in the way, and you end up taking several breaks. In the end it took me six months to write this book, though if I’d had more time to work on it, I might have gotten it done in half the time.

Tell us a little about your main characters.

First off, we have the Snake, our very unconventional protagonist. He’s gone through a great change, and it’s why he’s the killer he is now. I purposely did not reveal his real name in the novel, because I wanted to imply that we all could become like the Snake under certain circumstances.

There’s also Allison Langland, my main character’s girlfriend. Unlike other damsels in distress, she’s a bit more proactive. She doesn’t waste away in a cell hopeless or hoping to be rescued. She’s a fighter, and I love that about her. I think that’s also why the Snake loves her, come to think of it.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it?

I did plenty of research on New York City, where the story takes place. I also did research on serial killers and psychopathy, the better to understand what sort of character I was constructing. I even had a forensic psychologist and profiler give me his diagnosis on the Snake based on crime reports I created. All in the name of authenticity.

What about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, it’s an unusual story, so I think that might get people interested. And if people really take the time to check it out, I’m sure a few of them will end up enjoying the story and identifying with the characters. That’s the hope, anyway.

What are you working on right now?

I’m writing another thriller novel, as well as editing the sequel to my previous novel “Reborn City”. I’m also working on interviews, blog posts, and articles. As usual, I’m busy as a bee.

Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?

I guess I’m aiming for readers who like what I like. That means Anne Rice, Stephen King, and James Patterson, with a dash of manga and anime. Don’t know how many people are like that, but I’m trying to find them.

What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a good story?

I could probably spend hours philosophizing about that. There are many, many components that are needed to make a good story. But in brief, a good mastery of vocabulary, spelling, and grammar, a good plot and wonderful characters, and hard work will make for a good story.

What advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Read, write, work hard, and never give up.

Where can people learn more about your book?

Where Snake is available: http://www.amazon.com/Snake-Rami-Ungar/dp/1495434931/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1402622066&sr=8-3&keywords=rami+ungar

Blog: http://ramiungarthewriter.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RamiUngarWriter
Twitter: https://twitter.com/RamiUngarWriter

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1e

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress set at a dance studio where I take classes. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

“I don’t have any secrets,” Royann said. Royann is our lady in red — not only does she love the color, she is passionate, simulating, impetuous. Her zest for life keeps her on the move and keeps a huge smile on her animated face. But now, beneath her relentless optimism, I sensed a strain, as if she did indeed, have a secret she was keeping even from herself. Or perhaps the strain came from continued dealings with an ex-husband who had divorced her after forty-two years and seven children. He’d hidden their considerable assets so she ended up with only her social security and small pension, and he was trying to take those from her, too. Royann seems radiantly happy now that she’s remarried, and yet there is that telltale strain.

The exotic notes and strong percussion of Arabic music sounded in the studio. Cicy stretched with us then moved to the center of the floor and led us in a series of steps — figure eights with our hips, common motion, hip lifts, rond de jambes. Afterward, we practiced the dance we knew, the one we’d performed on stage.

As we danced, I thought how much I would miss Jan when she was gone, then I paused midstep. What the hell was wrong with me? I wasn’t going to kill Jan for real. It was a story, a game.

Ms. Cicy stopped the music. “You’re not together. When you dance in a group, Pat, the group has to act like one person. Let’s start again.”

To be continued . . .

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1d

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress set at a dance studio where I take classes. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

Although I took six classes from Ms. Cicy, I shared only one class with Jan, Arabic dancing. On Tuesday ballet class came first at 10:00am, and Arabic followed immediately after. While some of us were taking ballet, Jan had a different class with a different teacher, and she arrived at Ms. Cicy’s studio right after her other class, already dressed in her belly dance skirt.

Samm usually took ballet, but she missed class occasionally due to other obligations, and the morning I shot Jan’s photo was one of those occasions. A few others whom you have not yet met (I’m trying not to commit the unforgivable authorly sin of introducing too many characters at once, and I am failing miserably) came when their schedules permitted, but I’d never missed a Tuesday class. I don’t know what I hoped for — maybe grace or strength. I was too old to ever become a ballerina and I didn’t have a ballet body or even ballet feet. Ms. Cicy had to keep reminding me to point my toes, and when I stood on the balls of my feet, my heels barely lifted off the ground. Regardless of my shortcomings as a ballerina, I approached the class with all the dedication I could muster. I’d even made myself a black ballet skirt to put myself in the proper frame of mind and body.

After stowing my camera in my dance bag, I unwrapped my ballet skirt from around my waist and donned my orange and turquoise Arabic practice skirt. I stood at the barre and waited for class to begin. Samm found her place at the barre behind me.

“When did all this happen?” she asked.

I turned to face her. “When did what happen?”

“I don’t know how it all started with Jan. Was it your idea?”

Corkey had been silent during the picture taking and the between-class bustle, but now she spoke, sounding surprised at Samm’s question. “You were there. It started a couple of months ago when we all went to see the Trocks.” By “Trocks” she meant Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a glorious and gloriously funny all male ballet troupe. “When we were at lunch before the show, someone mentioned that Pat was a writer. Jan suggested she write a book about us and even volunteered to be the victim.”

“Oh.” Samm slid one slim leg behind her in a deep lunge and stretched her body forward. “I sat at the other end of the table that day, so I didn’t know.”

“I didn’t know either,” Marilyn said. Marilyn was a quietly cheerful woman who seemed to take everything in stride despite the major losses she had suffered. Or maybe the loss of her husband and best friend had taught her to take things as they came. Either way, she was easy to talk to and easy to be around. “My son and grandson met me that day, and I ate with them.” Her greenish eyes twinkled with pixyish delight. “Maybe we should all tell Pat a secret that will come out during the story.”

Samm continued to stretch, and Corkey drew tendus on the floor with her properly pointed feet. Their so obvious non-response to Marilyn’s suggestion made me wonder what secrets they were hiding. Was it my obligation as a writer to pry out those secrets, or did my obligation as a friend demand that I leave them alone?

To be continued here: Chapter 1e

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1c

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress set at a dance studio where I take classes. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

Samm, a lithe woman of unknown years (unknown to me, that is) with wonderfully flawless dark skin, entered the dance studio. She was the type of woman who could randomly pull two or three unmatched items out of her closet and look as if she’d spent hours dressing herself for a Vogue photo shoot. That day she wore her purple practice skirt, which wrapped twice around her hips (mine barely wrapped once, if you must know), a maroon scarf tied into a turban-like affair, and a bluish-purple long-sleeved shirt with the tails tied at her waist. It wasn’t only her age Samm was quiet about, but her earlier years, too. Perhaps she had been a model at one time. Or maybe she had reason to be secretive — a woman with a sordid past.

Samm watched me take the photo of Jan in her death pose below the barre, then asked, “how are you going to get Jan into that exact position when she’s killed?”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” I admitted.

“Maybe she was trying to reach the barre so she could die dancing,” Samm said.

Jan gave a little laugh. “That’s too true to be funny.” Then, more seriously, she added, “Dying while dancing is how I’d like to go out. I just wouldn’t want to die on stage with all those people watching like a friend of mine did.”

Dying to Dance would be a good name for the book,” I said. “Or maybe Sashaying with Death. Or Death en Croix.

“Why does it have to be death.” Cicy said with a moue of distaste. Ms. Cicy is our teacher, a 77-year-old with the body of a woman half her age and the legs of a teenager. When she dances, you can almost see the years melt away, and she is young again.

“Maybe we could call it Ms. Cicy’s something,” I said

Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare.” Cicy giggled, sounding about seventeen. “Maybe you don’t really kill Jan. Maybe I wake up and find that I dreamt the whole thing.”

“Great title,” I said, hoping the teacher wouldn’t notice I didn’t comment on her idea about Jan’s death being a dream. It’s a time honored ending, of course, but I thought if I were going to go through the trouble of killing Jan, it should be for real.

Glee lit Cicy’s beautiful dark eyes. “I could be the murderess. I have experience.”

I felt my jaw drop. Cicy had experience with murder? It seemed impossible that anyone who danced with such expressive moves — moves that spoke of life — could have a history of violence.

“It was a murder weekend,” Cicy explained. “I was the murderess, a princess from a foreign country. I even wore a tiara.”

I blew out a breath of relief, glad I didn’t have to alter my impression of the dance teacher, at least not yet. “But why would you want to murder Jan?”

Cicy exchanged glances with Jan, who had risen and was smoothing her skirt. “Maybe she stole my choreography.”

I understood the need to protect one’s work any way one could, yet in truth, Cicy routinely gave us her choreography. Every step she taught gifted us with her work.

Still, such an irrational theft, as minor as it might seem to the danceless, could be a killing offense, especially if Jan were to give Cicy’s work to a rival instructor. (I’ve lost track of how many dance classes Jan took. Three or four from Ms. Cicy, and at least a couple more from other teachers. In the dance world, such promiscuousness could be motive enough for wanting someone dead.)

I am new to dance, but even I had experienced the deep emotions dredged up by dancing. In just a few short months, dancing had become a need, a pilgrimage, a soul quest.

“Do you know how long it will be before the cops get here,” I asked Jan, thinking how disappointed I would feel if class had to be cancelled.

“A long time. Maybe a couple of hours.”

That seemed excessive to me, but I figured Jan should know since her husband is a retired criminalist.

I looked around the dance studio. The place wasn’t large, perhaps fifteen feet wide by sixty feet long. Mirrors lined one long wall and a barre stretched across the opposite wall. A small nook at the back of the studio had been furnished as a miniscule waiting room, and a corner had been cordoned off with a counter and cabinet for an office. Pictures and posters hung on the walls, but other than that, the studio was empty.

“If we have to stay here for a couple of hours waiting for the cops, we might as well have a class,” I said. “The floor will be mostly bare since Jan’s body won’t take up much room, we’d be dressed for the occasion, and our minds would not yet have processed the truth. I like the idea of a group of aging women dancing in the face of death.”

By this time, the rest of the class had arrived. All eight women stared at me with various shades of disbelief, but I shrugged off their attitude. This was my story, my murder, and I could choreograph it any way I wished.

Jan shook her head with mock sadness. “I am truly hurt that no one will mourn me.”

“Of course, we’ll mourn you,” I told her. “But it will have to wait until after class.”

Jan smiled, but I don’t think she thought my comment funny.

To be continued here: Chapter 1d

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1b

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

Before belly dance class the next week, I asked Jan how she wanted to be killed. Since she’d initiated this lethal game, I thought it only right that she got to choose the means of her demise. So much fairer than the way life works, wouldn’t you say? I mean, few among us get to choose our own end. Life, the greatest murderer of all times, chooses how we expire, whether we will it or not.

Jan laughed at my question and said she didn’t care.

Death is often messy — and smelly — with blood and body wastes polluting the scene, and I did not feel like dealing with such realities. Besides, the murder was to take place at Ms. Cicy’s dance studio, and I didn’t want to be haunted forever after by the scent of a gruesome end for Jan. It would put a damper on the pure joy of dancing, and I couldn’t allow that to happen.

So . . . no blood, body wastes, smells, or any unpleasantness. It would be a nice gentle murder befitting our nice, gentle victim. Poison, perhaps, or a blow on the head. Neither of those means of murder would be particularly gentle on Jan, of course, but then it’s not her sensibilities I’m worried about. After all, she’d be dead and beyond such matters.

I continued to fret over motives. It seemed inconceivable that anyone would want Jan dead, but I kept on with my preparations for her murder. One day I brought my camera to class so I could take a photo of her would-be corpse lying on the studio’s wooden dance floor. When Jan walked into the studio, dressed in her green and beige silk belly dance practice skirt, I asked if she’d play dead for me. I expected to have to take several shots to get the pose I wanted, but she sank to the floor as gracefully as she did everything else, and lay in the ideal pose.

Right then I knew I could kill Jan. She was just too damn perfect.

To be continued here: Chapter 1c

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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