Book Cover: Sacred Duty Preview

Available February 2024


The duty of a soldier is to act heroically, within the bounds of war, doing what one would otherwise never do. Then there is a Sacred Duty, doing what exceeds every bound and inhale the taintless air of Eden.

There is truth and there is fiction. This story is both.


Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself-Hebrews 13:3

Texas Correctional Institutions Division, Mountain View Unit, Gatesville, Texas, summer of 1977.

They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. That may be true, but what do they say about a woman when hell itself takes hold of her and squeezes out every ounce of her humanity? What do they say about a woman made in the burning, sulphuric dens of demons? They say such women are monsters, that they do not deserve to live. That is what they said of Lisa Means, “they” being the Texas Judicial system. This is her story, and then it isn’t-like all stories, there is what appears at the slippery, slimy surface and then what is just below the mud-because below the mud is another story, a man’s story, from another country, from a different time. But in the end, it is every human’s story for we are all called to choose between right and wrong.

Peter Engle, fifty-five years old, six-foot-three, graying at his temples, a strong handsome face chiseled by pain, and then good fortune, and then even greater pain, stepped into “the box”-death row visitation module, a line of small 3×3 cubicles, with thick security glass partitions, each equipped with what were once green plastic phones, now worn to their basecoat black ending in a short, one foot, coiled line. The guard on the free side watched Peter with the kind of curiosity reserved for alien sightings. On the prisoner side, two robust, female guards stood shoulder-to-shoulder inspecting the man with similar fascination.

Twenty years…Lisa Means had been in the system for twenty years never having a single visitor. Most of her time was for a robbery-murder she committed when she was eighteen, but the death sentence came later, when her cellmate discovered Lisa had done worse. She would have kept her secret, but when Lisa shanked her in her sleep over a piece of bread, she was happy to rat her out.

Her execution looming, Lisa believed this visit was the final lawyer visit, the routine farewell-very routine, doing the absolute minimum, her lawyer hating his association with Texas’ worst female criminal-a pro forma goodluck with eternity spiel.

The prisoner door was unlocked with a big brass key, the door swung open and Lisa scooted in, her ankles chained, and her wrists cuffed tightly at her belly. Never what anyone ever expected-forty-two-years old, slight, five-three, brown, shoulder length hair, streaked with thick gray strands, sallow skin, brown eyes, no scars, or missing teeth-just someone you’d pass on the street and take no notice of.

The guards grabbed her arms at her skinny biceps and roughly led her to her seat. Peter watched their eyes and knew what they knew; this was a monster, not the make-believe-kind of Mordor, but real flesh-and-bone who had done unspeakable things, who deserved something worse than execution. They slammed her down on her seat, spun her to face Peter, uncuffed one hand and the other was tightly fastened to a metal pipe that ran the length of the row of naked desks.

His eyes crinkled a Hello.

Her eyes, dead, languid, yet alive in her pupils with little pinpricks of hate that pierced his, making him stiffen his warm smile that it might not cower away.

“My name is Peter Engle, and you are Lisa Means.”

She leaned forward as far as the line would let, spewing out twenty years of the silence that burned in her belly. She spoke calmly, but with a rage underneath it all that leaked out between her words in tight breaths like an angry bull before a charge. “Don’t you call me by my given name…I ain’t her. Ain’t been her for twenty years. So whoever ya are…ya just call me…prisoner.”

He nodded. “Whatever you wish.”

She snickered with a soft disdain seeing him as some kind of eager mortician eyeing his goods before they qualified, then looked over her shoulder at the guards who stood three feet behind her, listening, one wide-eyed with curiosity, the other squinting her impatience. She looked back at Peter and pressed closer. “You’re not from the lawyer?”

Peter shook his no.

“I knew you was here before they brought me in. I felt ya. I know things, feel things no one else can.” She shook her head and muttered something away from the phone. Then she brought the receiver close to her lips. “But I don’t know everything. Don’t know why…don’t know why. Whatcha want Mr. Peter Engle?”

“I wish to tell you a story, Ms. Means.”

She pulled the phone from her ear and took it near

the holder.

Peter shot his hand up. “I’m sorry…prisoner. Ms. Prisoner.”

“Just prisoner.”

He nodded again.

She returned the phone to her ear. “So you gotta story? Twenty years and…I ain’t had no visitors…lawyer came once, and now…two weeks before they…shoot me up, I get some…” She inspected him from the top of his head to his meaty hand cradling the phone. “…some old man and a… story?” She leaned back in her chair straining the one foot cord and a tiny curve made the corner of her lips. “How old are ya?”


“Got a woman?”


“I think yur some kinda freak.” She leaned forward and spoke just above a whisper. “I know freaks.” She sat back and smiled like a child, innocent, hopeful. “What kinda story ya got, mister?”

“It’s my story.”

“Your story?”

“I tell it everywhere I go, and I’ve been to many places.”

She shrugged her shoulders and shook her head disapprovingly. “Don’t know…don’t look like ya got much of a story to tell.”

“We all have a good story to tell.”

She snickered and nodded. “Mine is…they think they know…they don’t.”

She folded her hands like in prayer, a tease to match her malevolent smile. “Go ahead… before…it’s curtains for me. Go ahead Mr. Peter Engle.” She waved her hand at him. “Just go ahead.”

Peter closed his eyes, and returned to his past, to a time and place Lisa Means could never know, to his story, to what was beneath the mud, to their story.

38 years earlier…


Ostbrandenburg, Germany, 1938, twenty years after World War I

Peter Engle walked into the barn to begin his chores finding his father sitting in a dark corner on a milking stool. His eyes darted away with concern over the melancholy he often saw in him.

Max swiveled on his stool to face him, his look blank and distant.

“Are you okay father?”

Max studied his son’s face for a moment, absorbing his concern, a smile wiping away some of the sadness from his eye. “I’m fine son…just fine.”

Peter constructed a thin smile that quickly fell under what he knew. One look and he recognized the sadness that often overtook his father when he remembered the Great War. The auspicious black patch over his father’s missing right eye forever captured the horrible memories. Peter hid his sigh with his hand; the words in his father’s head so loud he could feel the condemnation of hundreds of young soldiers unearthing themselves. ‘You took away our best years. You showed no mercy. Widow maker. Killer. Killer. You are damned forever.’