Stacked Deck is Ed Clark’s first foray into the novel form. It is the story of a returned Vietnam Veteran named Will Cameron who is one step away from living on the street when he is rescued by former comrades in arms and a woman he spent a single night with years before. They nurse him back to health and help him repress the memory of the event that has subconsciously plagued him since his return from the war.

One day, twenty-five years later, the respected and successful Professor Cameron is preparing a lesson for class when things begin to unravel and the events of his last night of combat, long forgotten, begin rising into consciousness.

Guilt, remorse and a need for redemption send him on a quest to make amends for that night, thirty years earlier. He is aided by his wife, his friends, vivid dreams and the dead, who tell him exactly what they need to make things right.


Sneak Peek: Chapters 1-3

Stacked Deck

By Ed Clark


Part I

Chapter 1

“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime. Ask the infantry and ask the dead.”

Ernest Hemingway



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.


­­­Chapter 2

“The only way to have a friend is to be one”

Ralph Waldo Emerson



Professor Will Cameron and President Algernon Carrington III, who everyone addressed as Dean Carrington, served in the same rifle squad during their stint together in the Second Indochina War. They were just two of one and a half million American, South Vietnamese, and other allied troops facing off against four hundred and twenty thousand North Vietnamese and Vietcong soldiers in half a country, half the size of California, with a population of twenty-million people, most of whom were under the age of fifteen.

Algernon arrived on Firebase Howard toward the beginning of the monsoon season. It had rained torrentially for several days, and the base resembled a body of water more than dry land. Its inhabitants had begun calling it Lake Howard. Everything and everyone was soaked. Will saw the short, slightly rotund Algernon for the first time as he slipped on the skid of a landing helicopter and belly flopped gracelessly into a puddle of muddy water. His heavy pack buried him facedown in several inches of thick goo. Will watched the helicopter door gunner lean over his machine gun, either shot or convulsed with laughter. Algernon managed to roll over onto his pack but remained mired in muck. He began kicking his legs and waving his arms like an overturned turtle. The door gunner waved good-bye to him as the helicopter ascended, the prop wash of its rotors covering him with water. Convulsed with laughter, Will hurried to help him up.

Once settled in, it was not long before Will and his men realized that Algernon was different. While they passed the time talking about women and what they would do when they finally got home, he talked about how gravitons fit into quantum field theory. He often used words that perplexed them and was embarrassed when he saw the blank stares on their faces. Because he easily and clearly enunciated the jargon and code talk used on the squad radio, Will assigned him to carry it.

“Listen,” he said. “You walk right behind me like they taught you in boot camp. Pass the handset to me anytime I gesture for it, whether I’m looking at you or not. If I tell you to use it, say exactly what I tell you to relay. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“Good. Never address me or anyone else by rank out here and never salute anyone, not even the battalion commander. Is that clear too?”

Algernon nodded.

”Now you’re getting the hang of things.” Will dropped the drill-sergeant routine and smiled. “The reason you have this job is because your predecessor caught several pieces of shrapnel the size of quarters in his ass last week and is probably on his way home… back to the world by now. Nobody else wants the job because the damn radio weighs 25 pounds. Since you’re the new guy you get it. Got it?” Algernon nodded and Will shook his head. “Luckily, the radio wasn’t hit too. Anyhow, I hope the fool gets the chance to go to college like he wanted because he nearly drove me crazy talking about it. “Congratulations,” he said, shaking Algernon’s hand. “You’re the new radio mule for First Squad.”

From that day forward, the radio made the two men inseparable. It necessitated that they eat together, fight together, and share the same foxholes and bunkers. They slept on the ground beside one another. Since war has accurately been called, “mostly long periods of boredom punctuated by short periods of intense fear,” Algernon and Will had plenty of time to become acquainted.

“I owned a really cool, white Chevy Impala SS 409 convertible back in the world,” Will revealed with evident pride one boring afternoon as he passed Algernon the joint they were sharing on top of a sandbag bunker. The pair were searching the tree line beyond the razor wire to their front for enemy activity. “The damn thing delivered 425 horsepower from dual four-barrel carburetors, did 0 to 60 in less than 6.7 seconds, and had a top-end speed of 135 mph. What did you drive, Alg?”

“A ’67 Mercedes Gullwing,” he answered, passing the joint back.

Will’s eyes got big. “Wow, what does a car like that cost.”

“I’m not sure. It was a gift from my folks after I returned from the Peace Corps. Ironic, isn’t it? I was barely back from two years in Africa before I was drafted and sentenced to hard time in this place. Now I’m up here passing a joint with you and looking for people who want to kill me. My folks wanted to squash the draft notice, but I wouldn’t let them. How’s that for egalitarianism?”

Will looked at his radioman with a mixture of newfound respect and concern. “Sounds like a real bad call to me. What exactly does egalitarian mean?“
“It means being equal.”

“You mean like being equal to be here when you didn’t have to be?”

Algernon shrugged. “Something like that, yes.”

Will laughed so hard he began to choke. “I bet you’ve spent some time recently rethinking your egalitarianism,” he gasped.

Algernon ignored him, and they sat quietly until a helicopter flew over and sat down in the center of the small base beside the battalion headquarters. Its rotors raised a cloud of red dust as it disgorged several officers in clean fatigues who immediately disappeared into the bowels of their command bunker like insects scurrying down a hole.

“They’re probably in a big hurry to find something really unpleasant for us to do,” Will moaned, then gazed quizzically at Algernon. “You’re a rich kid, aren’t you?”

Algernon grinned. “Not just a rich kid but the scion of moneyed nobility. My full name is Algernon Carrington III. I graduated from Carrington College. Carrington is an exclusive institution founded by my family not long after the American Revolution. It is dedicated to the proposition that all men are not created equal and that things should remain that way.”

Will’s mouth hung open. The Gullwing was forgotten. “How much does that place cost?”

Algernon passed the joint back and put a hand on his new friend’s shoulder. “If you aren’t raised in the right places, don’t attend the right prep schools and country clubs, know the right people, or you need to ask what it costs, you won’t get in. I joined the Peace Corps to get away from all that.”

“Why the hell would anyone want to get away from all that? My dad died when I was little. My mom waited tables in greasy spoons to feed us and pay the bills. I barely graduated from high school and couldn’t have afforded to go to college even if I’d wanted to and one would have had me.” He flicked the stub of the joint away, opened a couple of beers, and handed one to Algernon. “You had it made, man. I’d have never left a nest like that.”

“Why would anyone want to stay here?” Algernon asked, somewhat defensively. He declined a cigarette Will offered. “This is your second tour in this hell hole. I cannot imagine doing something like that. Why did you?”

Will lit the cigarette and gazed off into the distance before answering. “I had a girlfriend. She was real smart, kind of like you. She lived next door. We grew up together, played together. We dated all through high school. She went off to a fancy college on a full scholarship. I stayed behind and went to work. Then I got drafted. About three months into my first tour, she stopped writing. Toward the end of it, my mom died. I felt like shit and had no reason to go back, so I stayed, and here I am, talking to you rather than working some crummy job back in the world.”

“That isn’t so different from why I joined the Peace Corps, but after my tour here, I will go home, and this time I will ride the family gift horse as fast and far as it will take me.”

“Now you’re talking,” Will agreed. “I don’t know what I’ll do. Sometimes, it feels like I’ve been here forever, like my life before coming here was a dream I can only remember bits and pieces of.” He paused and stared out into the distance again, then asked curiously, “Do you know what month it is?”

Before Algernon could answer, Will caught a faint flash of light off in the tree line followed by a dull pop. “Incoming!” he shouted. “Take cover!” The first round made a direct hit on the helicopter that landed shortly before and left it a smoldering ruin. Before the second detonation, Will was on the radio, calling in the location of the flash. Two more incoming rounds detonated near the same location as the destroyed helicopter. No more followed. Return fire began peppering the area.

“They’re long gone already,” he shouted over the din of the outgoing fire, smiling, his eyes aflame. “That was a damn lucky shot. I hope no one was in that chopper. Anyhow, I’ve got to check on the other bunkers. Keep your head down and your eyes peeled. When I get back, I want to hear all about Carrington College and the Peace Corps.”


Chapter 3

“A lot of it just has to do with luck, serendipity.”

Emanuel Ax



Five years after their return from the war, Algernon found Will living in a camper van in Chinatown. He was not looking for him. He was just trying to wend his way around a traffic snarl because he was in a hurry. When an opening in the line of cars provided the opportunity, he turned down a gray cobblestone alley where a beat-up old VW van sat parked against the worn brick wall of an aging building. He gave it no more thought than the dumpster he had already passed, except that the words “Not Insane” stenciled on the side in black paint caught his eye, and he turned his head to look. But for that, he would not have noticed the shaggy bum with long, greasy hair and a ratty beard sitting behind the wheel, his head thrown back, choking down a bottle of amber liquid. The bum happened to pull the bottle from his mouth and glare toward Algernon’s gray Mercedes as it passed. Their gazes met. Algernon drove on a few car lengths and buried the brake pedal.

It was the eyes. Even red-rimmed and framed in dirty hair and a beard, he recognized the green orbs that shone like gemstones and could have belonged to no other human being he had ever known. In the rearview mirror, he watched the figure tumble out of the van and stumble to his feet, whiskey bottle in hand, staggering towards his car. Algernon got out and walked toward the drunk. When they were about ten feet apart, the man stopped, pointed the neck of his whiskey bottle at Algernon, and said, “Bang!” then fell on his ass.

“How have you been, Sarge?” Algernon said.

Will roared, rose unsteadily to his feet, and bellowed, “Fine, Alg. Never been better.”

Algernon had not seen Will Cameron since the day they parted five years earlier in Vietnam. His mind’s eye again watched the helicopter carry his sergeant up and away, never to return.

Will’s laughter died as Algernon slung an arm over his old friend’s shoulder to steady him. His nose told him Will needed a bath and a change of clothes.

“Long time no see, ol’ buddy,” Will slurred. “How ya been?” He lifted his head just enough to look down the alley. “Nice car.”

Algernon nodded. “Want to take a ride in it?”

“Sure. Let’s get a drink.”

“Okay, we can get one at my place.”

“Lead on.”

Algernon reached across Will’s body and gently removed the bottle from his hand. “First, let’s put this up. It’s illegal to have open booze bottles in a car. We’ll cap it and leave it here. We need to lock your van anyway.”

Will opened his mouth to protest just as a door opened onto the alley and a man stepped out. He wore a t-shirt and a white apron. He was dragging a garbage can. The fine odor of oriental food poured into the alley and made Algernon’s stomach growl.

The man was Asian, of middle age and medium height. His hair was graying, and he was thin as a standing noodle. He dragged the garbage can to the dumpster, emptied it, and then turned to face the two men holding each other up. Without a word he set the can down, brought his hands together in an attitude of respect, and bowed slightly at the waist.

A flicker of recognition stirred in Algernon’s consciousness. Before he could put a name to the face, Will spoke. “How are ya, pop?” He removed his arm from around Algernon’s neck, stood up straight on wobbly legs, and returned the man’s bow. When he teetered, Algernon grabbed him around the waist. Without speaking, the other man abandoned the trash can and sprinted to where the others stood, pulling Will’s arm across his shoulder. “Shit,” Will said. “This is turning into one goddamn fine reunion, boys.”

The man addressed Will. “It has been many years since we three were comrades and I served as your scout, Sergeant Cameron.”

Algernon was pleasantly stunned by his serendipitous encounter with two men he never expected to see again. To meet them unlooked for in the same place at the same time, after five years, he knew to be absurdly improbable. Being of sound mind though, he chose not to waste time at that moment speculating on the odds of such an occurrence, even at the macro level of a quantum universe. “I can hardly believe this,” Algernon gasped. “It really is you, Tran Van Quan? I’ll be damned.”

“Let us hope not. It does me good to see you both again, Algernon. It’s been a very long time,” he said in slightly accented English. “And you,” he added, looking down at Will, who was beginning to slump. “It is a fortunate and auspicious, though unlooked-for, pleasure that we have met here today, Sergeant Cameron.”

“Don’t start with all that formal shit, Quan.” Will’s head began to bob and his eyes to close.

“Come on, Algernon. Let’s take him into the restaurant,” Quan urged, and they began half carrying, half dragging him to the door in the alley wall.

The restaurant kitchen was a cacophony of clattering pans and dishes, urgent chatter, laughter, scurrying people, the sizzle of frying food, the hiss of steaming pots, the gurgle of a dishwasher, punctuated by the rhythmic whack and thunk of a meat cleaver. The two Caucasians—the plaid-shirted drunk and his dapper, suited keeper—sat at a table in the employee break area. Their presence was curiously noted and politely ignored in the general hubbub. Quan brought a pot of hot tea, bowed, and returned to his duties washing dishes and hauling trash. With coaxing, Algernon was able to get two cups of tea down Will. He was no longer in a hurry. He had already missed his appointment with the PhD committee and knew he would pay dearly for it.

Once Will was settled and sipping tea without assistance, he excused himself and went to park his car. He found a spot, with some difficulty, on the street. On the way back, he stopped to secure Will’s unlocked van. Three parking tickets were tucked under a wiper blade. The interior was nicely appointed, with a bed, table, bench seat, cabinets, and a sink. It even had curtains on the windows. It would have been attractive but for the empty food and beverage containers (mostly beer cans) covering every flat surface along with clothes tossed haphazardly everywhere one might want to sit or lie down.

Standing beside the plaid cushion of a bench seat next to a small table stood a pair of skis, a backpack that appeared ready to hit the trail, and a PRC-25 radio identical to the one he carried in Vietnam. Looking at the radio, Algernon felt the weight of it on his back and the grip of the handset, although he had not touched it.

When he returned to the restaurant, the kitchen was quiet. It did not register at first. After several moments, he sensed it and looked around. The employees were standing silently. A stunningly beautiful woman with long, black hair, wearing a high-neck, saffron dress that went nearly to the floor was scowling at Will. She turned to Quan and spoke sharply in Vietnamese. He answered deferentially and bowed.

The woman began tapping her foot. “You must go now!” she snapped, looking down at the man with his face hanging over a cup of tea. At the sound of her voice speaking English, he lifted his head. Their eyes met. A look of incredulity passed like a shadow across the woman’s delicate features and vanished, replaced by a melancholy smile. She came closer, leaned near and spoke gently, her whole demeanor changed. She said, “Hello, G.I.”


Thank you for reading this excerpt of Ed Clark’s debut novel. He is currently shopping Stacked Deck to publishers and agents. If you are interested, please contact him.

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