And Now a Word from Our Sponsor….

It’s Shameless Plug Time!

Our novel, Chasing the Wind, is currently on sale at Amazon. Now through October 27th, the ebook edition is only $.99. Sorry, those of you who prefer print editions. I don’t think our publisher ever runs sales on the paperbacks.

CTW 2014

 

 

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It’s a good way to be notified of their new releases. I follow all of my favorites!

New Release from Hilary Grossman Amazon.com
Plan Bea

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Plan Bea
Hilary Grossman
Release date: October 8, 2015

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Maybe I Took a Wrong Turn On the Way to…Where?

I had planned to post condensed versions of my upcoming books here, three times a week. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But now…I’ve discovered what could be an even better place to post them. Higher visibility, more readers…what more could any writer want?

So I’m off to check it out. Stay tuned! If all goes well, I’ll post links for anyone who wants to read more….

Write On by Kindle

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We Interrupt the Regularly Scheduled Post to Bring You a Special Announcement!

The next (condensed) chapter of An Army of Angels will be appear as scheduled on Friday–but today, we have a special treat! My friend and fellow author/blogger, Hilary Grossman, has just released her new book, Plan Bea. If you read her wonderful Dangled Carat, you already know what a terrific writer she is–so be sure you don’t miss Plan Bea. It’s great! I’m not biased or anything, but…

hilary headshot

And if you haven’t read Dangled Carat yet–if you haven’t, why haven’t you?–it’s now on sale, so be sure you don’t miss it! Also, Hilary is having a contest over on her blog, Feeling Beachie. I suck at Rafflecopter links, so I will give you a link to her blog, so you can enter the contest there (and meet her adorable cat Lucy)!

New Release, giveaway, sale

 

And for the Dangled Carat sale: http://www.amazon.com/Dangled-Carat-Hilary-Grossman-ebook/dp/B00M3AVGDA The sale ends Sunday.
Blurb:
How well do you really know the people in your life?  

Annabel O’Conner has the perfect husband, two adorable children, an amazing job, and the mother from hell! Annabel doesn’t like it but has come to terms with the fact that her relationship with her mother, Bea, deteriorated to the point of forced and strained communications. However, an unscheduled call from Bea turns her world around and makes Annabel question everything she believed about her life. 

Despite the fact secrets, lies, and misplaced blame have destroyed the women’s relationship; Annabel reluctantly agrees to help Bea plan her wedding. Little does Annabel know the impact of her decision. 

In this Women’s Contemporary Fiction novel, Hilary Grossman explores the complex relationship that exists between mothers and daughters in a light-hearted and relatable manner.

An Army of Angels: Alex

AAOA cover (final)

4 – My Brother…Or My Father?

I sat in front of a computer at the public library, staring at the image on the monitor in disbelief.

He’s dead?

It couldn’t be. Finding Andrew was my last chance, my only chance of getting the answers I needed. My only chance to find out what the future held for me. There was no one else I could turn to, no one in whom I could confide.

I continued to stare at the image on the monitor. Andrew was chronologically older than me by almost ten years. His hair was longer and he had a beard now.

My hand went to my own hair. I saw my own reflection in the monitor as well. At first glance, we were no longer identical….

***

I hauled a squirming, soapy mutt from the washtub and turned the spray on him to rinse him off. The little ingrate managed to wiggle himself free of my grasp and shook his whole body violently, showering me with suds. “Dirty little rodent!” I laughed, hauling him up by the scruff of his neck and returning him to the rinsing sink. “Here I am, trying to be Mr. Nice Guy, and this is the thanks I get!”

“You really like these guys, don’t you?”

Recognizing her voice, I turned. Robyn stood in the doorway, watching me with open affection in her eyes. “Employees only allowed back here,” I said, looking around to make sure nobody on the staff had seen her come in.

“Relax,” she told me. “As I told you before, I have special status around here, thanks to my record number of adoptees. Nobody’s going to say anything.” She paused. “Except maybe hello, which would be better than I got from you just now.”

“Hello,” I offered weakly.

“Hello. Be ready to go soon?”

“Give me ten minutes–I don’t think you want me in your SUV like this.” I gestured toward my soaking wet clothing.

“I’ve had a lot worse in that old klunker.”

“Ten minutes.” I dashed off to change into the dry jeans and shirt I kept there for the days the dogs got rowdy.

***

“I was beginning to think you wouldn’t even come here for a visit,” Robyn said as she braked her SUV to a stop in the driveway.

“Did I ever say that?” I pushed open the door on the passenger side and climbed out just as her army of pets came charging across the yard to greet them.   “None of them bite, do they?” I called out to her.

“Some of them don’t even have teeth,” she laughed. “About half of these guys are really, really old. Old critters in shelters are hard to place–a shame, since they make such good pets.”

“Most people who come in are looking for puppies or kittens,” I agreed.

“They don’t know what they’re missing.”

I grabbed the grocery bags in the back seat as the animals ganged up on Robyn. She reached into her backpack and took out a large freezer bag full of treats, tossing them out. The animals grabbed them enthusiastically.

I followed her into the house via the torn screen door off the kitchen. The kitchen was big and cluttered. Jackets hung on the backs of the chairs. Food and water bowls were lined up against one wall. Dishes were piled up in the sink, and the trash can overflowed.

“I see Paulie forgot to take the trash out,” she observed with a shake of her head.

“I can do that,” I offered.

She nodded. “Great. There’s garbage cans out front, at the end of the drive,” she said, in case I hadn’t noticed them when we came in.

I nodded and gathered up the trash. It took me less than five minutes to do the task. “Any other odd jobs I can do while I’m here?” I asked when I returned to the house.

“Maybe after dinner.”

I loved her house. It was homey. Lived in. Very different from where I’d grown up. My parents’ home had been almost antiseptic. My father was a control freak who wanted perfect order at all times. I couldn’t remember ever being allowed to leave toys in the middle of the floor or get dirty at play.

“I’ve changed my mind,” I told Robyn over dinner.

“About what?” she asked.

“Your offer, if it’s still open,” I said. “I’d like to move in here–temporarily.”

She nodded. “Of course the offer stands. As you can see, there’s plenty of room.”

“For three?” I asked.

“Three?”

“I want to adopt two of my buddies from the shelter,” I explained, grinning. “But to do that, I’ve got to have a home to take them to.”

She laughed. “They got to you, didn’t they? Y’know, when anybody makes references to ‘dumb animals,’ I always find that funny, because they’re not dumb at all. They just speak a different language.” She passed me the potatoes I wasn’t able to reach in spite of my best efforts. “Sometimes, I think they conspire to get themselves adopted–like one turns to another and says, ‘Watch me get that sucker over there to take me home,’ or ‘Hey, he looks like he eats well. I’m going where the food is!’”

I nodded. “They probably do, at that.”

“So who’d you get snookered by?”

I laughed. “Snookered?”

“Don’t make fun of my vocabulary–that’s a word I got from my grandma,” she said, tossing scraps under the table, which created a feeding frenzy.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” I assured her. “To answer your question, I’m taking Garfield and Odie.”

Garfield and Odie?” She roared with laughter. “You are kidding–”

“It fits, believe me. Wait’ll you see these two together,” I said. “The cat’s fat, lazy and manipulative, and the dog’s an idiot.”

“Apparently not so much of an idiot that he couldn’t do a snow job on you,” she pointed out.

“All right, so maybe he did.” I paused. “You have to see this mutt to believe him–he’s so dumb, you have to wonder how he managed to stay alive out on the streets. And the cat…broader than he is tall. No exaggeration.”

Robyn smiled. “I’m glad you changed your mind about this, Alex. I think you’ll be happy here.” She paused. “I should probably warn you, though.”

“Warn me?”

“This is as quiet as it will ever be around here,” she told me. “When everybody’s here, it can get pretty crazy.”

“I was sleeping in a bus station when you found me,” I reminded her. “Does it get crazier than that?”

She laughed. “You have a point.” Then: “I do think you’ll like it here, once you adjust to the chaos.”

“I know I will.” I paused. “This is the first home I’ve ever been in that actually felt like a home.”

She hesitated. “What about your own home?” she finally asked.

I shook my head. “That was more like a hospital than a home,” I remembered. “Sterile, antiseptic, never cozy. Never comfortable.”

“Sounds like fun.”

“Anything but,” I said. “My father had a thing about germs.”

“Like Howard Hughes?” she asked, recalling the eccentric millionaire’s descent into mental illness in his last years of life.

“Yeah. Times ten.”

Then I abruptly changed the subject. Again….

***

“My parents were hippies,” Robyn told me.

I thought she was joking at first. “Hippies? You mean–”

“Hippies,” she repeated. “Pot-smoking, peace-and-love believing, down-with-the-establishment hippies. They didn’t turn respectable and get married until I was twelve.”

I grinned. “You don’t act like a love child,” I told her.

She laughed. “How is a love child supposed to act?” she wanted to know.

I shrugged. “I don’t know…I just don’t think you act like one.” Take your foot out of your mouth, idiot, I told myself.

“I was born and raised in a commune. I’m the youngest of six kids. Mom and Dad said they decided to keep trying until they got a daughter,” she continued.

“You have five brothers?”

“Yes. Mom and Dad gave them weird names like Peace and Love. I was originally named Karma.”

“Karma?” I laughed aloud at that.

Robyn made a face. “We all changed our names as soon as we were legally able to do so.”

“So you have five older brothers…..”

“Yep. All big guys, too. Pro wrestlers.”

“Thanks for the warning,” I said. “They do know we’re, uh, just friends, right?”

Robyn gave me a look I didn’t quite understand. “Yeah,” she said. “They know.”

She sounded disappointed….

An Army of Angels: Alex

3 – As Fate Would Have It….

I shifted uncomfortably in the seat of the crowded Greyhound bus as it approached the city from the east on the San Bernardino Freeway. In the darkness, most of my fellow passengers slept. Sleep for me, however, did not come easily. A woman seated in the back of the bus with a crying baby was having the same problem. I smiled to himself, a weary little smile. The kid was proof of perpetual motion: he never stopped crying. I was surprised any sound could come out of that throat after all this time.

SketchGuru_20151007131903

I sat up and attempted to refold my jacket into a more comfortable pillow. What’s the use? I asked myself. In another fifteen minutes, the bus would be stopping, and I’d be looking for someplace else to call home, however temporarily.

Home. I don’t even know the meaning of the word.

I looked up at the lights. Lights illuminating the freeway, lights in buildings. I tried to imagine what the people inside those buildings were doing. Office buildings, with workaholics burning the midnight oil, trying to get rich. Hotels, filled with weary travelers, families on vacation, cheating spouses having trysts. No matter who they were or what they were doing, those people had somebody with them, or somebody to go home to.

I had no one. Not anymore.

I looked down at the folded newspaper in my lap. It was three years old. The headline read: SCIENTIST SOUGHT TO TESTIFY IN GEN TECH CASE. The caption under the photograph read Dr. Andrew Stewart, but the face was my own. The same light brown hair, the same blue eyes, the same bone structure–everything was the same. We were identical twins, even though we had been born to different mothers in different countries, ten years apart.

Some would call that a miracle, others an abomination. My mother had seen it as the latter.

The bus left the freeway and headed downtown. Los Angeles suited my needs perfectly. It was the perfect place to lose oneself. I wanted to drop off the face of the earth. What better place to do it than this city of dreams? The City of Angels. I found it amusing. If this place were indeed populated by angels, if angels existed, if Heaven existed, I would certainly be banned. I’d never be permitted to set foot on holy ground. I’m a walking, talking sacrilege, I thought miserably. Man’s slap in the face to God.

By the time the bus pulled into the station, the crying baby in the back had finally drifted off to sleep. His mother’s peace would be short-lived. The moment she moved, rising from her seat to disembark, the howling began all over again. I hoisted my backpack onto one shoulder and slipped into the line in the aisle. As I stepped off the bus, I was assaulted by a variety of sights and sounds. Los Angeles was truly a melting pot, populated by people representing a wide range of cultures and speaking a multitude of languages. I made my way through the crowd and entered the large, cavernous station. There were faded fiberglass chairs in lines in the center, some taken, most empty. A row of vending machines lined one wall. There was a snack bar that was now closed, and small TV sets that operated on quarters. Homeless people slept on the floor at the far end, their worldly belongings stuffed into tattered backpacks, duffels and totes.

I lowered my own backpack from my shoulder and looked at it for a moment. I’m one of them, I thought, drawing in a deep breath before moving forward. Might as well join the crowd.

I found a spot in a corner and lay down, drawing my body into a fetal position. I rested my head on the backpack and finally began to drift off to sleep. Had I become so accustomed to this life that it no longer bothered me?

I hadn’t been asleep long when the shrill whistle issued by a policeman roused me. I sat up as a group of people rushed into the terminal and started rounding up the homeless. I thought they were cops at first. I scrambled to my feet.

“Come with me.”

I turned. Behind me was a young woman who looked to be in her late twenties, dressed in an Old Navy T-shirt and faded jeans. She had warm brown eyes and long auburn hair that hung in messy curls about her shoulders. “You sure don’t look like a cop,” I told her, confident that, unless she was armed, I could easily get away from her.

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“I’m not,” she said, looking mildly insulted. “I’m from the Guardian Angel shelter. You need a place to stay?”

I regarded her with amusement. “Do I look that bad?”

“You’re sleeping on the floor in a bus station,” she reminded me. “It’s a no-brainer.”

I scratched my head. “Yeah, I see your point.”

She pulled herself to her full five feet two inches. “Well?”

“Well what?” I asked.

“Does a warm bed and hot food appeal to you or not?” She looked around. The people she’d come with were already leading several others out of the terminal. “We only have limited facilities.”

I nodded. “You talked me into it.”

She gestured toward the door on the opposite side of the building from which I had entered. “Our van’s outside.”

“My mother always taught me never to get into a car with strangers,” I said then. “I don’t even know your name.”

She shot me an impatient look. “I’m Robyn,” she said. “Robyn Cantwell. And you?”

“Alex Stewart.”

***

“More soup?” Robyn asked, refilling my bowl without waiting for an answer.

I nodded, unable to speak with my mouth full. Until she had put the bowl in front of me, I hadn’t realized how hungry I was–or how long it had been since I’d last eaten. I was sure my table manners were deplorable, but she didn’t seem to notice–or to care. She sat across the table from me, watching me intently. “So where are you from, Alex Stewart?” she asked finally.

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“Nowhere,” I answered, my attention remaining on the soup.

“You have a family.”

“Did I say that?”

“You said your mother taught you never to get into cars with strangers,” she recalled. “I have a photographic memory.” She tapped her temple for emphasis.

I grinned. “I was being sarcastic,” I confessed.

“So there’s no family back home?” she pursued.

“No family, no home.” I went back to my soup.

She didn’t give up. “Everybody comes from somewhere, Alex Stewart.”

“I come from a test tube,” I deadpanned.

She laughed. A beautiful, open laugh. I liked the sound. It had been a long time since I’d laughed–or heard anyone else laugh like that. It was funny how something so simple, so often taken for granted, could become so precious when one was deprived of it.

“More sarcasm?” she wanted to know.

“What do you think?”

“I think you’re not like most of the people I see come through here,” she answered honestly, offering me some crackers.

“Yeah? How so?”

She considered her answer before giving it. “Most of them are out on the streets because they can’t take care of themselves. Mentally ill, handicapped in other ways. They can’t work, can’t pay the bills. Society’s cruel, so they end up out on the streets.”

“And I’m not mentally ill? How do you know?” I asked.

She smiled. “It’s not that hard to tell.”

I finished the soup. I would have liked another bowl, but was reluctant to ask for it. Instead, I pushed it away to let her know I was finished. “Do tell,” I urged.

She took the bowl and put it on a cart, then sat down with me again. “If I had to venture a guess, I’d say you’re above average in the brains department. Which makes me wonder how you ended up here,” she said.

I hesitated. “Family problems.”

“So you do have a family.”

“Yeah, I guess you could call what I had a family.”

Her expression softened. “That bad?”

“That bad.” I changed the subject then, unwilling to say anything more. “You said something about a soft bed. I’m really beat….”

***

When I spotted her dishing out breakfast the next morning, I asked, “Do you live here, too?”

She laughed. “Sometimes it feels that way,” she admitted, “but no. I live in the Valley. I’m filling in for a friend this morning.” She heaped eggs and bacon onto a plate for me. I took it, nodding in appreciation. I moved along in the line, figuring I’d probably seen the last of her. I took a seat at one end of one of the long, cafeteria-style tables that filled the lunchroom and ate alone, lost in my own thoughts.

“Need a job, Alex Stewart?”

I looked up. Robyn stood there, smiling down at me. Her smile was as warm and inviting as her laugh. “Am I now your pet cause?” I asked, regretting those words as soon as they were out of my mouth. She’d been concerned about me, and I sounded as if I resented it–which couldn’t have been further from the truth.

“Maybe you are,” she said with a slight nod. She didn’t wait to be invited to join him. “So, about that job.”

“What job?”

“At the animal shelter. There’s an opening. It doesn’t pay much, but it’s a start,” she told me. “Do you like animals?”

“I don’t know,” I answered truthfully. “The closest thing I’ve ever had to a pet was a lab rat, and you can guess how he ended up.”

She frowned. “I’m sorry.”

I grinned. “Not as sorry as he was.”

Robyn was silent for a moment. “Think you’d want to give it a shot?” she asked finally.

“Why not?” I said. How hard could it be for them to replace me when the time came for me to move on?

An Army of Angels: Alex

2 – On the Road to…Where?

I left New York two days later. I arrived in North Carolina on a sunny afternoon in the aftermath of a hurricane. The clear, cloudless sky seemed to mock the devastation nature had inflicted upon the land. The wrath of God, I thought grimly.

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I worked in construction for six weeks, part of a massive effort to rebuild what nature in its fury had destroyed. Hundreds were homeless, living in shelters set up by the Red Cross. My work took me from Kitty Hawk to Cape Hatteras, working in every small town in between. I slept in shelters or on the beach, saving every cent I could for the inevitable, the time when I’d have to move on. I attended a local church near Kill Devil Hills for a time, but found myself disillusioned, more by the clergy there than by the congregation, I went back to studying my Bible independently, sitting alone in the sand along the beach. I often asked myself if it mattered that I was doing this for the wrong reasons as long as it got the right results. Did God care, one way or the other? If there was indeed a God, had He abandoned mankind? If not, where was he now? Why had He allowed so much pain and suffering to go on in this world? One had only to read the newspapers or watch the evening news to see war, crime, famine, disease, homelessness everywhere.

On occasion, I saw it right in front of me.

I came upon the scene as it unfolded: an elderly woman had been evicted from her home. All of her belongings were piled up along the curb. She was clearly distraught. All around her, human scavengers were digging through her things, taking whatever they wanted. No one was trying to stop them or do anything to help her.

“Hey!” I shouted, running toward them. “Get away from there! Leave her alone!”

The people stopped what they were doing. Most of them departed, but some refused to give up the things they’d helped themselves to. I approached the old woman. “You all right?” I asked. She looked like she might collapse. I could tell she’d been crying.

She shook her head. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she mumbled. “I got nowhere to go and no way to move this stuff, what’s left.”

“Don’t you have any family?” I asked.

“None that care about me,” she said sadly.

“How long have you been out here?” I took a bottle of fruit juice from my backpack and gave it to her. “Have you eaten?”

“No. I was making breakfast when the sheriff came,” she said. “They made me get out. Threw my eggs out, I think.”

“Have you been out here long?”

“Since about eight this morning.” She looked toward the door, toward what had once been her home. “The people who have stopped, they didn’t come to help, just to take what they wanted.”

“Nobody’s tried to help you?” I asked.

“Only you,” she said sadly.

I noticed a car slowing to a stop several yards away. A little girl who looked to be about eight years old climbed out and grabbed a large stuffed flamingo. “Hey!” I yelled, running after her. “Drop it!”

The child, terrified, dropped the flamingo. She climbed into the car and it drove off. “What are you people teaching you kids?” I shouted after it.

“Leave it alone!”

I turned. The elderly woman was trying to stop a man three times her size from taking her washing machine, but he was ignoring her pleas. I ran back to her. “Hey, buddy–that’s hers!” I shouted.

“She got put out–she ain’t got no rights to nothin’!” the big man argued. “Now get outta my way so I can get this on my truck.”

“You’re not taking it anywhere,” I snapped.

The man turned to face me, towering over me by a good six inches and at least a hundred pounds. “Yeah? You gonna stop me?” he challenged.

“As a matter of fact, I am.”

“This ought to be good.” The man looked amused.

I thought of David and Goliath as I drew back my fist and lashed out with as much strength as I could muster. I imagined the worst as I connected with the other man’s jaw.

The giant hit the ground with a thud.

***

I spent a night in jail. “You’ve been charged with assault,” the policeman who arrested me explained. “The guy you decked lost two teeth and suffered a concussion.”

“Not my fault,” I insisted. “He hit hard because he weighs about as much as a grown rhino. I just knocked him off balance.”

“Right.”

“He was stealing from that poor old lady!” I protested. “You gonna let him get away with that?”

“If you’d called us, we could have stopped him. Taking the law into your own hands is a mistake.” The cop led me to a cell and ushered me in, then locked the door.

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I settled onto the hard metal bench that was jokingly referred to as a cot. No good deed goes unpunished, I thought.

***

It was just before dawn when another officer roused me to announce that I was being released. “You’re free to go, pal,” the officer said as he unlocked the cell. “You’ve become a bit of a local celebrity.”

“Me? Why?” I asked. Just what I don’t need.

“Your knight in shining armor bit netted you coverage by all the local news programs. We’ve been getting calls all night, people wanting to post your bail. The guy you clobbered, on the other hand, got so many angry calls, he dropped the charges.”

I hesitated. “What about the old lady?”

The cop grinned. “Somebody set her up in a new place and moved what was left of her stuff,” he said. “There’s some envelopes at the desk for you, too. People thought you should be rewarded for your actions.”

“Envelopes?”

“Cash. Lots of cash.”

An hour later, I bought another bus ticket and was on my way out of town.

***

I was frustrated.

Whenever I had the chance, I’d go to a public library and log onto one of their computers, resuming my search for Andrew. He seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth. Everyone else involved with the old man’s experiments had been located and hauled in for questioning, but Andrew had vanished without a trace.

Had he returned to London? I wondered. I realized now that I knew precious little about my twin’s life, beyond a few very basic facts: he’d been born in Scotland, raised and educated in London, and had lived in the US from the age of sixteen, when he began working under the tutelage of my so-called father.

Did Andrew have a family? A wife, children? Was he aware of my existence? The most important questions I had for Andrew could only be answered face-to-face.

If I could find him.

***

I wondered where my mother—Dorothea Sadowski—was now. I hadn’t seen or heard from her since the day she left Boston. She had made no attempt to contact me and left no forwarding address. I never understood why, until the day I learned the truth about my birth. I knew she hadn’t left because of the old man’s extracurricular activities. She’d known about his other indiscretions all along. I recalled confronting her about it one night over dinner….

“Why do you look the other way?” I demanded angrily. “He’s got an apartment near the campus. He takes girls there all the time. Everybody knows it, dammit! He’s making a fool of you!”

Dorothea shook her head. “You don’t understand.”

“No, Mother, I don’t,” I said.

“Your father and I, we don’t….”

I stared at her for a moment. “You don’t what?”

“We don’t have an intimate relationship,” she said, embarrassed.

I couldn’t believe it. “You don’t have sex?”

“Alex!”

“If you two don’t have sex, how….” I couldn’t finish.

“You were conceived by in vitro fertilization,” she told me.

An Army of Angels: Alex

AN ARMY OF ANGELS Has Been Launched!

1 – Whose Child Am I?

I didn’t go to the funeral. I couldn’t. I thought about it as I stepped up to the front door of the house in which I’d grown up. I couldn’t go there and act like I really mourned that bastard. The only regret I had was that it didn’t happen much sooner.

I fished the key from my pocket and unlocked the door, entering with mixed feelings. I promised myself I’d never come back here.

I looked around the foyer. Nothing had changed. I ran my hand along the banister at the bottom of the staircase. Except maybe the dust. The old germophobe would have a stroke if he could see that.

I went to the old man’s study. There were two walls of bookshelves–mostly related to his work. There were framed documents, all recognitions of his accomplishments. There were no personal mementos, no family photographs. It wasn’t Joseph Sadowski’s style. The only thing that ever mattered to the old bastard was his work.

I pushed the familiar feelings of resentment aside. I hadn’t come back here to revisit the past. That was the last thing I wanted. The old man was gone now, and truth be told, I was glad. I wouldn’t be sticking around for the reading of the will. I was fairly certain I wasn’t mentioned in it, anyway. No, I’d come to get my personal property before the house was vacated and turned over to whoever had inherited it.

The old SOB always had cash in the safe. That made about as much sense as everything else he did. I opened the safe and found an envelope that contained a stack of large bills. I tucked it into my backpack and turned my attention back to the safe. You owe me, Joseph. This won’t begin to cover the debt, but I’ll take it.

There was also a small case containing half a dozen flash drives and flash drives. I turned on the computer, the one I’d never been allowed to touch while the old man was alive, then removed one of the drives from the case and put it into the USB port on the computer. The files appeared on the monitor. I opened them, one by one. It was all gibberish to me. Notes from the old man‘s work. Hard to believe that SOB was a genius, I thought.

Then something caught my eye. One of the files bore my name. I clicked on it and opened it. At first, it made no sense. Then I saw the words that in seconds turned my entire life into a lie….

***

I walked alone through the cemetery, not sure exactly where the old man had been buried. It took me almost half an hour to find the grave, even with the directions I received from the caretaker. “I’ll bet you’d be surprised to see me here, wouldn’t you, Father?” I asked aloud, studying the grave marker dispassionately. “To be honest, I’m surprised to be here. Never thought I’d ever come back. Sure didn’t plan on it–but then, I don’t really have anywhere else to go, do I?”

I knelt by the grave. “This is the closest thing I have to a real home, thanks to you. I don’t have a family, don’t belong anywhere. You never even told me who my biological father was.” I was silent for a moment. “People like me only have one true parent, don’t they?”

I found it appropriate that the marker bore only his name, date of birth and date of death.   “No ‘beloved husband and father,’ no sentimentality. I know how you would have hated that,” I said, as if he could hear me.

“So how do I find out where I came from, old man? You destroyed most of your records–and what you didn’t shred, the authorities seized. Anybody who might have known has either been arrested or has dropped off the face of the earth.” I took a deep breath. “Andrew knew, didn’t he? Of course–Andrew always knew everything. You let him in on all of your experiments.

“What about Mother–Dorothea?” I asked. “Did she know the truth? Would she be able to tell me?”

I stood up again. “If I were to make any bets, I’d say Andrew was more likely to know the truth. Problem is, I have no idea where your favorite son has gone.”

I forced a smile. “Hate to cut this short, Dad, but I have no desire to end up a lab rat–and I’m pretty sure if they find me, they’re not going to just let me ride off into the sunset. They’ll probably dissect me to see if I’m really human. No, thanks. See you in hell, Dad.”

***

I pulled my tattered baseball cap low over my brow as I extended my arm and turned my thumb upward. Hitchhiking wasn’t going to be easy–so few motorists were willing to pick up a man alone these days–but it was the only way I could leave Boston without being spotted. The authorities would have people posted everywhere–but what were the odds of being spotted out here, on the highway?

A car slowed to a stop on the shoulder a few yards ahead of me. I ran to it and found the driver to be an elderly man alone. “Where’re you headed, young man?” the old timer asked.

“South,” I said. “As far as you can take me, I’d appreciate it.”

The old man nodded. “I’m going to visit my granddaughter in Hartford, Connecticut. I can take you that far,” he said.

“Thanks. I appreciate it, sir.” I tossed my duffel bag and backpack into the back seat and slid into the front passenger seat. The old man pulled back into the right hand lane and drove away….

***

From that day on, I never stayed anywhere for long. I never formed relationships, never let anyone get too close. I couldn’t.

Six months after I hitchhiked out of Boston, I was living alone in a third-floor walk-up in Harlem, all that I could afford when I first arrived in New York–but now, I was two months behind in my rent and facing eviction. My cue to move on. Time to head for a place where odd jobs would be more plentiful.

I ran a comb through my hair. That night, I was washing dishes at a diner in Queens. I would make barely enough to buy food. It had come to that–food or a roof over my head. I had gone from being the only child of a wealthier-than-Midas couple to working odd jobs to pay the rent. I’d gone from being their son to not knowing exactly where—or who—I came from.

I picked up my Bible as I headed off. I’d been studying the world’s religions since my days in Paris, knowing it would have infuriated the old man. I did a lot of things for that same reason—from growing my hair down past my shoulders to riding motorcycles to my love of classic rock music. I would have entered the clergy, had I not loved art so much.

Art. I hadn’t picked up a sketchbook in months, let alone a paintbrush. My heart hadn’t been in it since that day in Boston, the day I learned the truth about my birth. Would it ever be again?