Like the Unicorn, He Was Believed to be a Myth….

Special ebook promo through Monday!

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What’s Better Than Free?

Two of my novels are currently free (ebook editions only) at Amazon. If you haven’t read them but would like to, now’s the time!

Angels at Midnight Complete

Angels at Midnight

From Publishers Weekly

Set primarily in the glamorous art milieus of San Francisco and Manhattan, Beishir’s (Dance of the Gods) novel makes exciting stopovers in Monte Carlo, Venezuela, Big Sur and other exotic locales. The pages are rife with sizzling sex, suspense and conflict, expertly paced, as both hero and heroine are motivated to bend the law by a powerful need for revenge. Abby Giannini, who has changed her name to Ashley Gordon, loses custody of her son in a vicious court battle with her deceased husband’s parents. Collin Deverell, heir to an oil fortune, trades his share in his late father’s company for the rights to his mother’s art and jewelry estate. But when his ambitious twin Justin defrauds him of his inheritance, Collin too has a score to settle. Collin and Ashley’s joint quest for justice and lusty romance make for compulsive reading.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information Inc.
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Amazon review by William Kendall on Aug. 10 2016

The author published the book during her days with Berkely, and gives us two very sympathetic protagonists we can immediately connect with in an intricately plotted, well paced novel that explores themes of love, family, loss, revenge, and how far people will go for their own measure of justice. While our protagonists don’t actually meet until halfway through the book, that’s a good thing, as we get to follow them along parallel lines for more then a decade, getting to know them, sharing their triumphs and their despair.

Collin Deverell is one of two twin sons, heir to a fortune that his father, an oil tycoon, expects him to take part in. While his brother Justin readily involves himself in the family business, Collin has little wish to tie himself down to an executive life, preferring a carefree life of adventure and his love of fencing. With the sudden death of their parents on a business trip, Collin takes the chance to live life on his own terms, turning over shares in the family company and all responsibility to his brother in exchange for the family mansion, the art collection, and his mother’s jewellry. He lives abroad for some years, rarely settling down, living his carefree life, seducing whatever woman crosses his path. When he returns home, he finds that the valuable paintings and jewels have all gone missing, sold off by his devious brother. Collin vows to take back what’s rightfully his, even if it means breaking the law and going after some very dangerous people to do it.

Ashley Gordon is an artist from the Napa Valley in California who establishes a career for herself in San Francisco. After becoming a success in the art world and on the social circuit, she falls in love with Brandon Hollister. They’re happy together, and Brandon wants to marry her, though she’s puzzled by his complete estrangement from his parents. When we meet them, it’s not hard to understand: Bradley and Claudia Hollister are downright nasty to the core. Ashley and Brandon marry, have a son, Robert and are happy together, until Brandon is killed in a plane crash. In the wake of her grief, Ashley is hit again when her in-laws launch a custody battle for their grandson, using bribery, lies, and their connections to take him away from Ashley. Ashley is, understandably, devastated.

It’s into this mix that Ashley and Collin meet. Collin’s been busy recovering what was stolen from him by becoming a thief himself, learning the trade from a master who saves his life. What started out for him as a mission to take back what’s his becomes something more, as he discovers his father’s company has been mismanaged by his brother, and is falling into the hands of a criminal syndicate who are readily dismantling it. The syndicate are made up of the same people who have possession of his property, and what began as thefts to recover property gradually shifts, as Collin realizes he does, in fact, have a responsibility to save the company his father built. And since Bradley Hollister is a member of the syndicate, Collin decides to enlist his former daughter-in-law as a partner to bring down the syndicate, save his family company, and restore Ashley’s son to her custody.

It’s a wise decision to keep the two from really meeting until mid way through the book. We, the reader, get to see both characters develop fully on their own, so we care about them and what happens to them (Ashley’s loss of her husband and her son are particularly painful, which is one of the reasons the book works so well). When Collin and Ashley start working together, we see a growing connection between them, an emotional intimacy that comes across as very real. This is a testament to how human the two characters feel. They have depth, quirks, and flaws. As Ashley learns the tricks of the trade, of sleight of hand and the use of disguise, she and Collin find themselves drawn closer and closer. The bond and growing love between them comes across to the reader as the real thing. We come to root for them to achieve all they’re after, and it’s because of how well both of them have been written.

In every heist story, to root for the person pulling off the heist, it requires that the target be unsympathetic. Certainly having the target be a criminal syndicate is a very good way of having the reader dislike the target. And the primary targets, Bradley and Claudia Hollister, are more then worthy of our dislike. Both of them, particularly Claudia, are cruel and malicious. It’s not hard to understand why their son broke ties with them, and as readers, we want to see them brought down, broken, and defeated.

Justin Deverell is another interesting character in the book. Early on it felt like he’d be the primary antagonist of the book, but as things go on, it’s made clear that he’s the dupe, the tool for the syndicate to dismantle the family company after they’re done using it. I enjoyed the premise Norma used that Collin and Justin aren’t the kind of twins we’re used to in fiction… they have nothing in common but blood, barely speak for years, and ultimately are so far apart that it’s doubtful they’ll ever bridge that gap. There’s no closer then blood mental connection sort of bond between these two twins, and it’s a refreshing change.

There is a wild card sort of character I thought I’d make mention of. Anton DeVries, an insurance investigator, lurks in the background of the story. He first comes into the picture after Collin discovers the theft of his possessions. Through the rest of the book, he suspects Collin, looks for proof, and takes part in a pivotal moment towards the climax. He’s an interesting character, something of a bloodhound, or a Javert to Collin’s Valjean. DeVries is a good adversary, conflicted by catching a man who he knows to be morally right.

The attention to detail throughout the book is spot on, and perhaps never as much as during the various thefts that take place in the book. From training sequences in which both Collin and Ashley learn how to become thieves to the heists themselves, each act feels intricate, and brings a lot of variety to the table. An escape from a time lock safe and a judicious use of a mirror stand out particularly for me during the theft sequences. And the attention to detail also reflects itself in the early sequences featuring fencing and the artistic process.

Angels At Midnight is a beautifully written book that you’ll enjoy reading. The plot and pacing of the novel keeps the reader on the edge. The details drawn out in the book about technique, places, and situations give it a very real world sensibility. And the characters really make the novel. Collin and Ashley are a winning couple that we can’t help but sympathize with, to root for, and to cheer.

And who knows? Perhaps Robert has siblings… and all of them have grown up to take after Ashley and Collin’s habit of breaking into high security vaults….

 

Final Hours cover - new

Final Hours

 

Amazon review by Mark R. Hunter on November 14, 2013

Final Hours fooled me: Despite the title, it isn’t really about the giant asteroid that’s about to wipe out human civilization. On the contrary, if there was ever a story that’s all about the journey, it’s this one.

Jamie Randall has to make a decision in the hours leading up to the apocalypse: Retreat to a secretly built bunker, where he might survive to continue his loveless marriage, or seek out the woman he’s loved for the last fourteen years and die with her? We soon know his decision – the story is about why he made it, and as we wait to know his fate the story flashes back to the events that led him there.

It turns out Jamie is – let’s face it – a jerk, although as we learn more about his history we get to know why. He married his wife to get ahead, to get revenge over those who once had power over him. The events that keep him in the marriage are believable, if tragic.

He’s rescued in every way when Kate appears, quite literally saving his life. The rest of the book is a love story, as Jamie woos Kate but is stymied again and again in his attempts to make her more than “the other woman”.

The truth is, Jamie probably doesn’t deserve either of the women at first, and by the time he starts trying to do the right thing he’s dug himself into a hole deeper than the one the asteroid’s going to make. Kate is practically a saint, while Jamie’s wife is trapped just as much as he is, and I kept rooting for a way for them to all get away happy.

That says something about the story – that we want to know how it all comes out, even though we already know it from the very beginning.

 

on July 14, 2009
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Final Hours is a good book to spend an afternoon curled up with. The story follows a man named Jamie, who has heard that the end of the world is coming, and because his wife is the daughter of a senator, he and his family are secured a spot in a safehouse, where they will be most likely to survive. But Jamie does not want to go. Instead, he realizes that he must face up to his mistakes and do the one thing he’s been wanting to do for the last fifteen years: spend his final hours with the woman he loves.

Forced to choose between his own happiness and the happiness of those he cares about, Jamie spends most of the book torn between the woman he loves and the woman he needs. His wife, the mother of his sons, was able to give Jamie everything he thought he wanted out of life, but when a free-spirited photographer named Kate saves his life, he begins to realize that maybe his priorities were wrong all along, and it’s time to start living the way he now knows he needs to.

Despite some bad choices all of the characters make, they really are what makes the story golden. Everyone makes bad choices, and these characters are all willing to face up to their mistakes, which makes them all the more admirable. They’re doing what they think is right in the current situation, and that’s really what sets them apart. The story really makes you think about life and love, and what it really means to be alive. And most importantly, when everything is stripped away, what truly is important enough for us to spend our final hours doing?

A Prophet…or an Experiment Gone Horribly Wrong?

Today’s excerpt is from Chasing the Wind, my favorite of my works. It took Collin and me ten years to write and revise, during the worst period of our lives, but we stuck with it–even when agents and publishers who wanted to work with us insisted we had to turn it into something I didn’t want it to be in order to sell it. Early on, it was a screenplay. I finally realized we would have to self-publish it in order to make it the story I really wanted to write, so in 2008, that’s what we did. Then a few years later, I told Collin we had to rewrite it, switching from third-person point-of-view to multiple first-person POVs. We did, and it was re-published by Creativia. The ebook edition is available via Amazon at a special promotional price–$.99–now through Wednesday!

This is the story of Lynne Raven, a Biblical archaeologist with a failed marriage and a yearning for motherhood, and Connor Mackenzie, a mysterious benefactor with an incredible secret he has yet to discover himself….

 

CTW 2014

Caitlin Hammond

The woman was hysterical.

Her husband wasn’t in much better shape. He could barely talk, struggling to answer my questions in fragmented sentences. Their six-year-old daughter had been abducted from their backyard. There were no witnesses, and an exhaustive search of the neighborhood turned up nothing.

“I don’t understand how this could have happened,” the child’s father said, choking on every other word. “She only let Mandy out of her sight for a minute.”

He looked over his shoulder at his inconsolable wife, being tended by a neighbor. “She’s always been an overprotective mother,” he said, lowering his voice. “Mandy’s our miracle baby.”

“How so?” I asked, taking notes. In the years I’d been with the FBI, I’d found child abduction cases to be the biggest test of my objectivity. If somebody took my kid, I’d probably hunt them down and kill them. Kidnappers and pedophiles should always be turned over to the parents. The courts might let them go. But you didn’t hear that from me.

“We’d been trying to have children for years, almost as long as we’ve been married,” the distraught father went on.  “We both come from big families and wanted kids of our own, but it just wasn’t happening.”

“Is your daughter adopted?” my partner, Jack Farlow, asked.

He shook his head. “No, no,” he said. “She’s ours. We went to a fertility clinic when we couldn’t conceive. It took everything we had, all of our savings, but Mandy’s worth it.”

“You had difficulty in having a child,” Jack said slowly. “Who was at fault?”

The man was at first puzzled, then angry. “What kind of question is that?” he asked. “What has it to do with Mandy being missing?”

“Probably nothing, maybe everything, depending on the circumstances of her birth, sir,” Jack said. “Did you use an egg or sperm donor?”

The man shook his head. “No,” he said. “Mandy’s ours, one hundred percent. She was conceived by in vitro, but we used our own…you know.”

“We have to ask,” I apologized. “If your daughter were not biologically yours, then we would have to consider the possibility that the biological parent might have taken her.”

“We’re her parents, no one else,” the man insisted. His face reflected his deep fear for his child’s safety. “Please bring our baby home. Please.”

***

“I only turned my back for a moment,” the distraught teacher repeated over and over. “I never left the schoolyard!”

A six-year-old boy had been abducted outside a prestigious Seattle school for gifted children. No one saw it happen, even though there were several children in the schoolyard, being picked up by their own parents. Everyone was being questioned.

“We understand, Mrs. Harwood,” I said in an attempt to calm her.

I don’t understand!” The emotional outburst came from the child’s mother. “You were responsible for him! You were supposed to be watching him!”

“I was watching him!” the teacher attempted to defend herself. “I was watching all of them! I only turned away for a moment!”

“Long enough for someone to take my son!” the angry mother shot back at her.

“Easy, Mrs. Wyndham,” Jack urged. “She won’t be able to remember anything if you keep attacking her.”

Charlotte Wyndham turned to the window, hugging herself tightly as if trying to shield herself from the chill of fear that consumed her. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She said her husband was in Paris on business. He’d booked a flight as soon as she called him, but he could not be there before the next morning.

“We only had each other, until Noah was born,” she said. “Neither of us have any other family, and we both wanted children. When we couldn’t get pregnant on our own, we sought out the experts. It took us three years and thousands of dollars to have Noah, but he’s worth every penny. If anything happens to him….”

***

The woman’s body was found in her car, parked in the driveway outside her Florida home. She was still in the driver’s seat, her seatbelt still in place. She’d been shot in the head at close range. Her five-year-old son was missing, presumably taken from his car seat.

We questioned her husband at length. He was frustrated by the endless probing. “My wife is dead, my child is missing. Why are you wasting time questioning me?” he demanded.

“You found her, sir, ” I said. “We have to start there. With you.”

“She had no enemies,” he said irritably. “None. She got along with everybody. I always envied that about her. She was the peacemaker. I was the loose cannon.”

“Were you a loose cannon with her, Mr. Reynolds?” Jack asked.

“No, of course not.” Roger Reynolds didn’t miss the implication. “What are you asking me?”

“Only if there were any problems between the two of you.”

“You think I killed her?” Reynolds asked incredulously.

“Did you?”

“No, of course not!”

“What about your son?”

“What about him?”

“Were there any problems regarding the child?” I asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Reynolds snapped. “Our son was perfect. Perfect.”

 

Lynne Raven

Dear God, how long has it been? As I stood at the window in my hotel room in London, looking at the city below, I found myself feeling like I’d just landed on another planet.

I should probably explain. I’m a field archaeologist. Home is wherever I happen to be excavating—at that time, “home” was Egypt. The only people I see on a daily basis are the members of my team. Restaurants, theaters, shopping—all are rare luxuries. My wardrobe is simple and functional, much like everything else in my life.

As I looked at the royal blue tunic I’d planned to wear that night, I realized I hadn’t worn it in months. It didn’t fit my normal lifestyle. Too feminine for a dig. Thinking about it, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d made the effort to be feminine, to actually look like a woman. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt like a woman, the last time I’d wanted to feel like a woman. Feeling and acting like a woman always seemed to get me into trouble. I had discovered long ago that I got on better with people who’d been dead for a thousand years than I did with the living.

I’m not one to spend a lot of time worrying about my looks. For what? I’ve been divorced over a decade and can’t remember the last time I was on a date. I turned forty that summer, but on the good days, I could still pass for thirty. I had fine lines around my eyes—“archaeologist’s squint,” an occupational hazard more than a sign of aging. I haven’t changed my hairstyle since college—it’s long, dark and threaded with strands of copper from being out in the sun all day, every day. I know I don’t look my age. But there are times I feel it acutely. I got good genes from my parents. Genes that I haven’t been able to pass on to any children of my own. The thought of the children I’d never have and the family I hadn’t seen in a year brought a wave of unexpected sadness I couldn’t shake. It was Thanksgiving in the States. How many years had it been since I’d gone home for Thanksgiving or any other holiday? I told my parents I was too busy, but the truth was that it was too painful to see my three sisters with their children. Seeing what I’d been missing.

I always believed this was the path God had chosen for me. I could never have been satisfied with the life my sisters led back in Missouri. Taking the easy route had never been my style. We all have a purpose. I believed without doubt that mine was to find evidence that would prove the events described in the Bible had actually happened.

As for why I was in London, I hadn’t planned on being here. Three weeks before, I’d been minding my own business, working on my dig in Egypt when that call came, asking me to do a series of lectures in London, to replace a colleague who’d been injured in an earthquake in China. The request surprised the hell out of me, since it came from someone I not only didn’t know well personally, but had been at odds with professionally. What was it Dr. McCallum had called me? Too much of a dreamer to ever be a serious archaeologist. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t about to debate the merits of his request. It had been so long since I’d taken any time off from my work, for any reason…and as much as I loved it, I’d been feeling the need for a break for a long time now. It was a feeling I’d never had before, one I was at a loss to explain, even to myself. Work had been my whole life for…how long? Ever since the divorce.

I was giving serious consideration to adopting a child, maybe two. Not babies. Older kids. Kids who could live the way I live and actually enjoy it. There are lots of kids in the world needing parents. It doesn’t matter if I give birth to my kids or not.

Being in London would hopefully also provide me with an opportunity to seek the funding I needed to continue the dig. Time was running out and I’d already been rejected by the three private foundations that had funded my previous digs. God, I need a miracle, I silently prayed. That’s what it’s going to take if I’m to continue my work—Your work.

***

I saw him enter the crowded lecture hall. He was hard to miss. He looked so out of place in the sea of conservatively dressed attendees—but it didn’t seem to bother him. He wore faded jeans and a beat-up black leather jacket. He was with a young woman, a petite brunette who looked as aristocratic as he was scruffy. His light brown hair was in desperate need of a comb. His boredom was evident in his body language, the way he shoved his hands down into the pockets of his jacket. I decided I’d lost my audience before I even got to the podium.

“I fail to see why you couldn’t have come to this event alone, Sarah,” he said, annoyed. “You know quite well that I’ve no interest in spending the evening listening to a decrepit old man talk about life in some desolate outpost of Hades, digging up the pathetic remains of people who lived in another millennium.”

The woman shook her head disapprovingly. “If you had even bothered to read the brochure I gave you, you would know that Dr. Raven is a woman,” she told him.

“No difference,” he said with an offhanded shrug. “Frumpy, gray hair in a schoolmarm’s bun, sensible shoes, no doubt.” He looked at his watch. “I’m going to need a pint—or two—to get me through this evening. I’ll be back. Eventually.” He turned to leave the lecture hall and we were face-to-face. He smiled, and his whole face seemed transformed by it. His eyes, blue and intense, instantly softened. “Hello,” he said in a low voice.

The woman came up behind him. “This is Dr. Raven,” she told him.

He extended his hand to me. “Connor Mackenzie,” he introduced himself. His Scottish brogue was unmistakable. I noticed that he didn’t introduce his date.

“Lynne Raven.” I shook his hand. “I left my sensible shoes back at the hotel,” I said, feigning regret.

He looked embarrassed. “You heard that?”

I nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

“I’m sorry—”

“Don’t be.” I smiled. “I get it all the time.” It was the truth. People are always surprised when they discover I’m an archaeologist. They always expect us to look and act like Indiana Jones. I do have the hat and the leather jacket, but no bullwhip. I used to wish I’d had one when I was still married. My ex could have benefited from a good whipping.

“I’m not surprised,” he said. “You certainly don’t look like an archaeologist.”

He wasn’t expecting Indiana Jones. He was expecting a fossil as old as some of my finds.

I laughed. “Having heard your description, I’m relieved to hear I don’t look like one to you.”

He looked me in the eye, which was a little unnerving. “I think you’re quite beautiful,” he said.

I could feel my cheeks flush. I couldn’t remember the last time a man had made me blush. Maybe my ex-husband, but that was another lifetime—one I preferred not to remember. “Good save,” I said, a bit unnerved by the intensity of his stare.

“Are you enjoying your stay in London?” he asked in an awkward attempt at small talk.

“Very much,” I answered, grateful for the change of subject. “I spend most of my time on excavations. This has been heavenly.”

“Where will you go when you leave?” he asked.

“Egypt,” I said. “We’re digging in the Sinai, near the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.”

He looked amused. “You don’t really expect to find stone tablets—” he started.

I shook my head. “The tablets were taken to Israel in the Ark of the Covenant,” I explained. “They were still in the Ark when it disappeared from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. It’s been rumored that the Ark’s now somewhere in Ethiopia, but no one’s been able to prove it. Much as I would love to be the one to find the Ark, we don’t expect to find it in Egypt. We are searching for evidence of the Exodus in general.”

He laughed. “Have you found the secret to parting the Red Sea?” he wanted to know.

I didn’t hesitate. “Yes. It’s called faith.”

“I’ve heard archaeologists are now using modern technology to aid their work,” he recalled. “Computers, satellites—”

“We do.” I drew in a deep breath, thinking of the equipment I still needed to continue my work. “Unfortunately, it hasn’t helped in this case. We haven’t found anything significant yet. This has turned out to be a long-term project, which means it’s been costly. My funding’s been cut off, and other sources I’ve used in the past have already turned me down. I have to find a new source of funding ASAP. Time is running out, if I’m going to continue my field work.” Why was I dumping this on him? I glanced toward his female companion, who was watching us intently. “I think your girlfriend’s getting the wrong idea.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” he said. “She’s my sister.”

Only then did I realize that he was still holding my hand. I withdrew it slowly.

“Have you eaten?” Connor asked.

I shook my head. “I’m beat. I thought I’d just get some Chinese takeout after I’m finished here and call it a night.”

He laughed. “A rare trip to the civilized world and you plan to spend the evening in your hotel room? That’s unacceptable.” he said. “Come have dinner with me.”

“I don’t think so—” I started.

“I may be able to save your project,” he suggested.

I was more than a little skeptical. “How?” He didn’t look like he had enough cash to pay for dinner. Except for the watch. The watch he wore looked very expensive. He probably stole it. Or so I thought at the time.

He winked, lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “My trust fund,” he told her.

I nodded slowly. “Right.”

He wasn’t about to give up. “I could surprise you. What have you to lose by hearing me out?” he asked.

I hesitated for only a moment. “All right,” I said finally. Even if he didn’t have the means to save the excavation, there was something so compelling about him, I couldn’t refuse. I didn’t want to refuse.

God help me, I was thinking.

Ask Yourself…What Do You Really Believe?

It’s promo time again!

This time, it’s Chasing the Wind. The ebook is just $.99 at Amazon now through July 19th.

258a1-ctw2b2014

From the publisher:

Deep in the Sinai, archaeologist Lynne Raven seeks proof of the Exodus. She unearths an ancient text foretelling of a prophet, sent to defeat an approaching darkness. Her path soon crosses with that of Connor MacKenzie, an attractive yet distant geneticist.

Meanwhile, around the globe, children are being abducted at an alarming rate. All are between the ages of five and six. All are extraordinarily gifted. And all were conceived in vitro.

One thing connects them all—the truth about Connor MacKenzie.

Exploring the fine line between good and evil, Chasing the Wind is an outstanding novel about love, faith, and destiny in the modern age.

Better Late Than Never? Not Always….

It’s probably pointless to post this, being the last day of the promotion, but what the heck? Why not?

The Unicorns Daughter eCover

I’ve been preoccupied with family matters (my son and collaborator has been making regular trips to the hospital and orthopedic surgeon–fortunately, the news isn’t nearly as bad as it could have been), so I have a good reason for forgetting to post the latest promo for The Unicorn’s Daughter. If you haven’t read it but would like to, the ebook edition is still available on sale at Amazon until 11:59 Pacific Time tonight.

Even without me tooting my own horn, it’s not doing too badly….

Product Details

But Not the Final Hours for These Promotions!

The special promotion for Angels at Midnight is nearing its end, but as of today, Final Hours begins a special promotion that will end on the 18th. Tomorrow, Chasing the Wind will begin a special promotion that will end on the 19th. If you haven’t read either of them but would like to, now is the best time to buy the ebook editions. Sorry, the paperbacks never go on sale.

Final Hours cover - newCTW 2014

Final Hours is featured in today’s issue of BookSCREAM‘s newsletter. If you’re not already a subscriber, it’s a great way to find free and discounted books!

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

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?