STACKED DECK BY EDWIN CLARK
Independently published 26th October 2020
ISBN 978682613571 available to buy from Amazon
IF GHOST FROM YOUR PAST HAUNTED YOU NIGHTLY COULD YOU KEEP YOUR LIFE STRAIGHT? OR WOULD YOU SET OFF ON A JOURNEY TO FIND ANSWERS? MEET WILL CAMERON POPULAR ENGLISH PROFESSOR AND VIETNAM VET WITH A TROUBLING PAST HE CAN’T SEEM TO REMEMBER.
Stacked Deck is a supernatural explanation into the darkness recesses of memory for unlikely friends. Told through the eyes of three veterans Will Cameron the introspective English professor and past squad leader, Algernon Carrington III. An u likely private who questions his elite station life and Tran Van Quan . A Buddhist Vietnamese solider and US transplant – The men stumble into a chance meeting that leads down a rabbit hole. Fate threw them together in the midst of the Vietnam war and they survived. When the rest of the squad perished. Now the bell is tolling fate will have its due.
Amidst entertaining philosophical debates. Quest of self-discovery. And a thrilling search for salvation skirting everything from rural America to triad hit men. The truth does not always set you free or keep you alive.
Fans of Sixth Sense. Slaughterhouse-Five. And Saving Private Ryan will love Stacked Deck. Join the supernatural journey. Read Stacked Deck. The fantastic debut novel of Edwin Clarke. And find out why someone would stencil “Not insane ” across the side of their VW Bus.
As I have read all of Weston Kincade books, this book Stacked Deck grabbed my attention. Edwin Clark has the wow factor making swift action easing the reader straight into the heart of the story. I strongly felt the atmosphere of what being in a war can do to you. In most cases I do expect that people who served in any war will bring home the ghost of from what they have actually accounted during their time in war, which will haunt them for many years to come.
Will Cameron taught Literature at Carrington College. His job was reading and talking to the living about what the dead had to say in stories about life. But since he had cleaned out his attic of his military items, he often woke in a cold sweat from from dreaming, with every detail vivid. He would dream about men in uniforms with helmets, who carried assault rifles, which were North Vietnamese Army regulars.
Like we all do think about old friends. Will often thought about his best friend Algernon Carrington lll physicist, colleague, president of Carrington College, his boss and former comrade in arms. Professor Will Cameron and President Algernon Carrington III had both served in the same rifle squad during the second Indochina War.
While I enjoyed this book, and some other women may do too, I do feel that men readers this is a must read must buy for you all. And if you have served in the war I am convinced that you will totally love this book and understand and have compassion for what the characters are going through.
“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime. Ask the infantry and ask the dead.”
The bedroom was dark and still but for the snoring dog at the foot of the bed. Will Cameron heard the faint, steady breathing of his wife next to him. The alarm clock said 3:30 am. The dream woke him in a cold sweat, every detail vivid. He crouched behind a large oak tree, looking down the barrel of an M16 across a gently sloping ravine. Fallen leaves littered the ground, sugared with a light dusting of snow. Men wafted silent as ghosts down the far side of the slope. He recognized them by their khaki uniforms and bird watcher’s pith helmets. Rather than binoculars, they carried assault rifles. They were North Vietnamese Army regulars, referred to by American soldiers with the acronym NVA, and there were dozens of them. He took aim at one, panned with his sights, and determined they were too many to fight. He chose to lay low and pray they passed him by. The trick had worked before. Then the radio sitting beside him hissed with static. The khaki-clad soldiers turned as one toward the sound and converged on his hiding place.
Will tried to fire, but his finger could not or would not pull the trigger. He knew if he did pull it he would die. He also knew he would surely die if he did not. He knew he could not run and live, and he knew if he did not run he would die. Paralyzed with fear and frozen by indecision, he watched his death glide silently across new snow beneath bare trees.
It was always the same. Not once in thirty years had anything changed. Even while dreaming he knew how it would play out, and he knew he could not alter one iota of it. When his heaving chest stilled, he tried returning to sleep. The recurrent nightmare was his private monster from the Id. It made him angry and ashamed of the power it wielded over him. His pulse raced. Vague shadows rose from black pits in deep recesses of his mind and reached for him. Finally, giving up on sleep, as he always did, he rose quietly for the sake of his sleeping wife and the dog, and because stealth in the dark and hyper-alertness were second nature to him.
The dream came more often now, almost nightly since his wife assigned him to clean out the attic several weeks earlier. It had been a wet, dreary Saturday, a good day for such chores. He was peeking into rows of rough wooden shelves, conflicted over what to discard and what to leave, when he chanced upon a dusty shoe box sealed shut with a strip of masking tape. Within he recognized a collection of faded military ribbons, medals and badges, a Zippo cigarette lighter with the inscription I should have gone to college, the black and white photograph of a smiling young woman, and a set of tarnished dog tags with his name, service number, blood type and religious preference stamped into them. After a quick examination, he taped the lid back on the box and returned it to its dark corner of the attic. That evening, he drank more than usual.
Putting a worn bathrobe over his shivering, damp body, Will moved barefoot and phantom-like through the dark house. You can fear the thing in the in the dark, dark, or you can be the thing in the dark he reminded himself. He turned on the coffee pot in the kitchen, let out the cats and the dog, then slipped into the guest bathroom. The face that looked back from the flat, white light above the mirror startled him. The graying, disheveled hair, crow’s feet, and wrinkles betrayed the passing of years. Only the eyes staring back were unchanged. Bright as emeralds, undimmed by time, but for round irises they could have belonged to a cat. They caused people to look twice at him. Lingering fear, reflected on the rest of his face, was absent from them. They bore fiercely through him, and drove his night fears scurrying into retreat.
He fed the animals, showered, and sat down at the kitchen table with a mug of coffee. His wife joined him unexpectedly. She was a slender, elegant woman with raven-wing hair highlighted by a thin, white streak down the left side. But for that and tiny lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth, she could have been twenty rather than fifty. Her maiden name was Thuy Dinh Mai. Mai had known Will for thirty years and been married to him for twenty-five of those. She was the owner and proprietress of a Vietnamese restaurant locally famous for its menu and profitable for a variety of reasons, not all having to do with ethnic cuisine.
She poured a cup of coffee, sat down at the table and said, “Hello, G.I.” She had greeted him with those words in mild derision the day they met. When they met again, some years later, she said them endearingly and had ever since.
“Good morning, dear,” Will replied as he sipped his coffee and smiled. “You’re up early.”
“I heard you rise and could not return to sleep,” she replied.
She shrugged and took a cautious sip from her steaming cup, gazing at him over the rim. “This is a good time, I think, to be awake, when the rest of the world still sleeps. It is a place between waking and sleeping, where the dreams of sleep and the illusions of waking meet a short while, a few heartbeats, then separate. I am rarely up to appreciate it.”
It was unusual for her to speak like that. He glanced out the kitchen window into the darkness beyond and smiled. Mai was the most pragmatic, rational, and unreflective person Will had ever known. He jokingly referred to her as his abacus capitalist, but there were times when she spoke with mystifying insight, more like an oracle than an entrepreneur.
He chuckled and shook his head. “I’ll need to ponder that over another cup of coffee and wait for the illusion of waking to kick in, if you don’t mind.”
Their home was large enough to house a small tribe, but they lived there alone. Their daughter and only child Amy was grown and married with a family of her own. She lived in Singapore and was chief financial officer of her uncle’s business empire. Unlike Will, his women each had a head for business. Both were graduates of excellent Ivy League schools that taught them the fine art of financial book cooking. With her gone, the place was quiet except when they entertained, or the dog barked or the cats fought. Now they sat in silence, sipping coffee and waiting for daylight. When the dog growled at something in the darkness beyond the window, Mai hushed him with a soft rebuke in Vietnamese, and they returned to the moment between things.
Will taught literature at Carrington College. He made a living reading and talking to the living about what the dead had to say in stories about life. The death part precluded most of the authors from participating in the conversations, so the living were left to argue among themselves about what the dead meant. An interesting profession, it generally attracted people only slightly less eccentric than crazy cat ladies and mad scientists. Will was able to make a handsome living doing this because the very rich were able to afford liberal arts educations for their children at expensive and exclusive private colleges. They considered such a rite of passage requisite for inheriting the earth and wielding the scepter of commercial rule over it. Carrington was just such an expensive and exclusive college.
After leisurely finishing their coffee and playing footsies under the table, Will went to get ready for work and Mai retreated to her home office. He stuck his head through the door on his way out. “I’m outta here,” he said. Mai was sitting at her desk. She turned and cast him a wanton glance while pulling a tortoise-shell comb through hair that descended to the middle of her back. Looking at her—even after twenty-five years, he still became short of breath. It was because of her, and only her, that life had meaning for him. Without her, he would have died drunk, alone in an alley, a flophouse, or under a bridge. With her, he was someone he could never have imagined being thirty years earlier. It was as simple as that.
“Have a pleasant day,” she replied. “A kiss please, if you would be so kind.” She always spoke that way, using modifiers like “pleasant” rather than “nice” in correct but non-colloquial ways, in the manner of many fluent but non-native speakers of a language. She rarely used idioms and never contractions. While most people would say something rhetorical like, “It’s a nice day. Isn’t it?” she would say, “It is a pleasant day, is it not?” She spoke French and Mandarin Chinese as correctly as English and Vietnamese.
The kiss took thirty minutes. “We should rise early more often,” she said with a sigh as he left the office, heading through the kitchen and out the garage door to the driveway. He caught the dog trying to chew off the front-left tire of his 1978 Volkswagen Camper Van. “Will, get the hell away from there!” he snapped. Mai had named the dog, Will the Dog. When asked why, she explained like one would to a child, in a tone of soothing sweetness and without batting an eye, “It is so I can summon the two of you while having to speak only once. It is a very efficient way to do things, and efficiency is always good for business.”
Will the Dog never bit the tires on Mai’s red Jaguar convertible. She owned nothing but red Jaguars and traded them in every couple of years. Red Jags were her eccentricity. She refused to drive anything else and only rarely condescended to be a passenger in Will’s van. She was particularly scandalized by what she derisively called the “advertisement” on its doors. Over the years, Mai and many others had grown accustomed to the phrase “Not Insane” stenciled on the van’s passenger doors in large, black letters. If anyone asked what it meant, Will shrugged and said, “It means exactly what it says.” If asked why it was there, he would reply, “Why not?” His tone always precluded further inquiry into the matter. He had become a curiosity of sorts because of his van. The regents considered it an affront to the image of the school. The administration defended it as a harmless oddity. The students and faculty championed it as freedom of expression publicly and joked about it in private. Because Dr. Cameron was admired and respected, no one was willing to take the meaning of the advertisement literally or seriously.
As the ancient van clunked and lurched down the road, Will sipped hot coffee from a battered travel mug and focused on a new rattle coming from the engine compartment. This particular vehicle was his second Not Insane. The first had been a 1960 Volkswagen T1 Camper he bought after his return from Vietnam. He traded his hot rod Chevy SS that had languished in a neighbor’s garage during his tour of duty for it. He got rid of the first Not Insane in 1982, but only after he could see the road passing by through rusted holes in the floorboards and replacement parts became harder to find than a missing sock in the laundry.
A new van had not altered his driving habits. He puttered down the road at sub-light speed, brooding over a lecture and discussion on William Faulkner’s novel Requiem for a Nun he was on his way to present to a cohort of graduate students.
He pondered his favorite Faulkner quotes as he poked through traffic: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” he mumbled to himself. I sure as hell hope that’s not true, he thought and sipped some coffee. This was not his favorite Faulkner quote. His favorite was: “Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” The damn clocks can click away from the past and into the future as fast as their little wheels can take them so far as I’m concerned, he mused.
While waiting for a light to change, he thought of his best friend Algernon Carrington III, physicist, colleague, President of Carrington College, his boss, and former comrade in arms. Something Algernon said once after too many beers in the bar of Mai’s restaurant came to mind and pushed Faulkner out.
“Quantum theory,” the scientist had pontificated, “a pillar of modern physics, states that future actions cannot be determined by past events and that the random distribution of sub-atomic particle waves is more or less responsible for the cause-and-effect relationships that create the illusion of an ordered macro universe.”
“Bullshit. The past is prologue,” Will whispered as the light turned green. A car horn tooted behind him, and he moved along.
He next stopped at a crosswalk to let a man in a jogging suit lope across the street while he considered what literary lesson he could glean, relevant to the study of literature, from a science as exotic as physics. Another toot on the horn from the car behind broke his concentration. He noticed the jogger was long gone, so he put the van in gear and moved across the intersection. He smiled and admitted to himself that half the time he did not understand half of what Algernon meant and never had. But being an English professor, he reminded himself, means the search for meaning and relevance in the human story, so I have something interesting to lecture about in class.
He was almost to the campus entrance when he had an epiphany of sorts and became determined to construct his class lecture on the passage of time, quantum particles, the history of storytelling, and other props that might or might not be relevant to Faulkner’s clocks. The freedom to branch off into wild tangents—either rational or irrational so long as they bore even the slightest relationship to the text—was the reason the study of literature appealed to him.
“The ancient bards and poets,” he said to himself, “expressed similar sentiments on scientific theory while sitting around campfires and telling stories millennia before scientists even existed.” Their cause was the will of the gods, and the effect they called destiny, he suddenly thought. None of the characters in their stories had any more choice than subatomic particles as to whether or not they played their parts in the divine comedy of vain and quarrelsome divinities.
Will made a sweeping gesture to emphasize his point and flung coffee halfway across the van. “Whoops!” he mumbled. “That’s called fate,” He sat his cup in the holder and replaced his hand on the steering wheel as coffee trickled slowly down the passenger window. “Fate also creates the illusion of an ordered universe.”
A man in a hurry, driving a new BMW, flipped him off as he gunned the engine and roared around him. Will absently repaid the gesture in kind, and his mind returned to Faulkner.
About author Edwin Clark
Edwin Clark is a native of Settle, Washington, attended the University Washington, George Washington University in Washington DC, and currently resides in yes, Washington County, Virginia. Before coming a teacher, he served in the US Army, the Peac Corps,fought forest fires, worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, did some logging, ran a building maintenance business and managed to work his way through College.
These days Ed is a retired English teacher who lives in the Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia with his wife, dog, a six-pack of cats and a couple of adult kids when they come to visit. He likes to hike and fly fish, write haiku, read and write.
To find out more about Edwin Clark and his future projects visit him at