Identity Check – Excerpt

New exciting mystery-thriller now available on amazon.com on Kindle or paperback. Here’s a scene with Scott and Jessie trying to find his true father…

Jessie parked the BMW in front of 4417 Westbrook Road. Scott stared up at the two-story, shotgun-style home that shared a covered porch with its paint-peeling twin next door. A few feet of calf-high grass separated the duplex from the other deteriorating homes on the block. A single FHA tree provided shade for the uneven broken sidewalk, and a brightly painted ceramic gnome family occupied a corner of the tiny front lawn.

“Are you going to sit there all day, or go knock on the door?” Jessie asked.

“Look at the time. We should come back tomorrow.”

“My watch says five o’clock.”

“They might be eating supper.”

“Or be in the living room half-naked, playing strip dominoes,” she said.

He shrugged. “Possible.”

Jessie got out of the car, grabbed Scott by the hand, and dragged him up the three steps leading to the porch. “Close your fingers into a fist, and bang it against the screen door frame–exactly three times.”

“What am I going to say–hi, I’m the bastard grandson you never met?”

“For an ice breaker I’d suggest, hello, I’m Scott Harold, Jr.”

“No wonder mom always liked you best.” He took a deep breath and rapped loudly on the door. No response. “Nobody’s home, let’s go.”

Scott turned to leave, but Jessie rotated him back. “Knock louder. I hear a TV.”

A few seconds later, the inside door swung open. A pleasant-looking elderly man, wearing leather slippers, smiled at them from behind a torn screen door. He wore a white t-shirt tucked into dress slacks held up by suspenders. The Cincinnati Enquirer sports section rested in his right hand. “May I help you?” he said, looking over his reading glasses.

Scott stood there with his mouth open, but no words came out. Jessie came to his rescue.

“We are looking for a Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Harold. Is this where they live?”

The man said. “You got the right address, but they don’t live here anymore. Are you family?”

“Could be,” said Scott.

The man said, “Either you are or you’re not.”

“If we could speak to them, I could give you a better answer.”

The man frowned. “That makes no sense.”

“Can you tell us where they moved?” Jessie interrupted.

“Sure.”

A couple minutes of silence went by. Scott finally asked, “Well?”

“Sorry, it won’t help.”

Scott said, “Why not?”

“Are you two selling insurance?”

“No,” said Jessie, “we need to ask them something very important.”

“I’d like to help, but you still can’t speak to them.”

“Please?” Jessie said.

“They’re dead.”

“Jesus, is everybody dead?” Scott said, throwing his hands up in desperation.

“I’m feeling okay,” the man offered.

“You don’t understand,” said Jessie, “We’re trying to find out if their son is Scott’s father.”

The man said, “Why don’t you ask him?”

“Who?” Jessie asked.

“Arthur’s son.”

“We can’t,” said Scott, “He died in Vietnam.”

The man shook his head. “Not him, the other one, Billy. He’s the one who sold us this house.”

Jessie said, “Scott Sr. had a brother?”

“The Harold family have been friends for years. Billy took it bad when he lost his kid brother.”

Scott said, “Any chance you have Billy’s address?”

The man nodded. “Sure, he lives in the other half of this duplex.”

*********************************************

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Identity Check – Excerpt

New exciting mystery-thriller now available on amazon.com on Kindle or paperback. Here’s a scene with Scott and Jessie meeting Scott’s mother for the first time…

They pulled up in front of a three-story Victorian mansion that would have cost a fortune located anywhere else in the world. Scott told Jessie how the house had been constructed in the late 1800’s by a railroad tycoon, and that his mother had been able to keep most of the antique furnishings and decorations originally imported from Europe.

Jessie stared at the impressive structure. “You didn’t tell me you lived with the Adams Family. Who do you keep locked up in the tower?”

“Mother reserved that room for you.”

She gave him an indignant look. “Well, don’t expect me to weave any straw into gold.”

Scott tried to find a place to park, but cars lined the street on both sides for three blocks in each direction. All the lights in the house blazed away, illuminating the neighborhood like a Cincinnati Reds night game.

 

“What the heck’s going on?” Jessie asked.

Scott shook his head. “Mother must be entertaining again.”

He squeezed the MGB into a spot half on the driveway, half on the lawn, and turned off the engine.

Jessie snorted. “Look at the size of this place. You guys must be dripping with dough.”

“We do all right.”

“Just you and the Royal Family.”

They climbed the steps to the wrap-around front porch. Scott pushed down on the latch at the top of the s-curved handle and the elaborately-carved, seven-foot high, oak door swung open. A cacophony of conversations, music, and light spilled out into the night.

Jessie grinned. “Sounds like a party.”

Scott led the way through his home. Guests, dressed in their finest, drank champagne and held monogrammed plates loaded with bite-sized cucumber sandwiches, scallops wrapped in bacon, and goose liver on crackers that they had purloined off silver trays carried by an endless number of penguin-like waiters. Other invitees, clustered about in groups of three and four, were busily exchanging liberal opinions or spouting political half-truths.

They arrived at the ballroom–a huge space, with a soaring ceiling, illuminated by a pale blue crystal chandelier. An antique Steinway grand piano sat in the corner, its majestic notes supported an accomplished jazz octet attempting one of Dave Brubeck’s more accessible compositions. A few couples were trying to dance to the tune on the highly polished Carrera marble floor.

“Are you sure we got the right house?” Jessie asked.

Scott’s mother, Christina Harold, swept into the room, wearing the latest designer frock, with a “Kendall for President” button that nearly covered her entire left breast. She immediately descended upon Scott and smothered him in hugs and kisses.

Jessie answered her own question. “Yep, must be the right place, or else people are really friendly in Middletown.”

Several of the nearby guests turned to acknowledge the newcomers for the first time–frowning at their casual attire. Jessie announced with a queenly wave of her hand, “My Paris original didn’t arrive as planned, but they’re flying it over on the Concorde as we speak.” She whispered to Scott, “Should I flash ’em?”

“And you must be Jessica Sterling,” said Christina, extending her hand. “Scott has told me so much about you.”

Jessie did a once over of the attractive, shapely lady in front of her. She stood about five-foot-five, with dark brown hair, and appeared way too young to be the mother of a college junior. But something about her style commanded attention and Jessie found it hard to believe she had remained single all these years.

Scott complained. “Mom, you didn’t say anything about a fundraiser this weekend. I thought we’d spend some quiet time together for you to meet and get to know Jessie.”

“I’m so sorry, darling, but campaign funds for President Kendall are dangerously low, so I had to do it. The primaries are only weeks away. Don’t worry; by eleven at the latest, these people will consume all the alcohol and food, and then simply drift away. Go amuse yourselves for a few hours. I’m sure Jessie can come up with something for you two to do together for that long.”

She winked at Jessie, and then turned away as quickly as she had appeared; floating off to the next group of partygoers, who judging from Christina’s charm and panache, wouldn’t even blink if she asked them to hand over all their cash and jewelry.

Jessie remained looking in the direction Christina had disappeared. “What was that?”

Scott looked at the floor. “Ahh…my mother can be a bit overwhelming when you first meet her, but she’s really quite nice–almost shy.”

Jessie chuckled. “Yeah right, like Attila the Hun. Where’s the food at this party? I’m starving.”

Scott offered his arm and escorted Jessie to the buffet table, where she filled up two plates with slices of chicken, assorted dim sum, stuffed mushrooms, and jumbo shrimp drizzled with cocktail sauce, while he absconded a chilled bottle of vintage white Burgundy and two wine glasses.

Scott said, “Let’s go upstairs for a little privacy and to escape all the noise.”

“I think she liked me,” Jessie shouted over the band, as they climbed the staircase to the second floor, “But hard to tell from–you must be Jessica.”

“Give her a chance. She only acts like that in front of an audience.”

“What’s the big deal about President Kendall anyway? He’s a creep who’s done a lousy job for the country.”

“Don’t let her hear you say that. Mom loves the guy. He’s the reason she got into politics in the first place.”

“I thought all rich people were Republicans.”

“That’s a dirty word in this house.”

“Rich or Republican?” Jessie asked.

“If you mention Republicans, my mother will wash your mouth out with soap.”

Jessie folded her arms. “I’d like to see her try.”

When they arrived at the study, Scott opened a set of French doors and switched on the lights. Antique furniture filled the room, including a roll-top desk and a stuffed empire sofa. Several leather bound books rested on the polished mahogany bookshelves, along with a matched set of deep-blue Venetian vases, and a scattering of family photographs in ornate gold frames. A boxed out semi-circular window seat with a flowered cushion enhanced the alcove on the south wall.

“How do you like this room?” he asked.

“I love it.” Jessie nodded toward the alcove. “Let’s eat by the window.”

The two sat down, overlooking a sleepy row of houses along a tree-lined street below. In the distance, the faint glow of Cincinnati illuminated the evening clouds.

“As a kid, I would play in here, while mom worked at the desk.”

Jessie said, “I can see why you liked growing up here.”

“Yep, this little berg is crime-free and all the neighbors are friendly. We can even claim a celebrity singing group.”

“Who’s that?”

“Middletown is the birthplace of the McGuire Sisters. Remember Sincerely, or Sugartime, big hits back in the 1950s?”

Jessie shrugged. “Sorry.”

Scott said, “Well, they were pretty famous around here.”

Jessie perked up. “You’d like my town too. Venice is one huge beach, the Pacific Ocean, and babes in bikinis skating up and down the boardwalk, dodging a steady parade of local characters and tourists. I’ll bet you can’t find medical marijuana in your town at midnight.”

Scott smiled. “You can’t do anything in Middletown after ten p.m., they’ve rolled up the sidewalks and gone home.”

“Hey, how about giving me a tour of this place? I need to pee like a banshee after all that wine.”

“I’ll make a bathroom our first stop.”

Several rooms later, they returned to the study. From below, Scott could hear a steady stream of guests making loud inebriated farewells and the front door kept slamming. “Sound like the party is ending. My mother should be up soon.”

Jessie walked over to the bookcase and picked up a frame with a picture of a beautiful young woman holding a baby. “Is this you and your mom?”

Scott looked over her shoulder. “Yep, ever see a cuter baby?”

She picked up another. “And your high school graduation?”

“Right again. I’m the one wearing the cap and gown.”

Jessie moved on to the next photo…a soldier standing in a jungle clearing with his shirt off, wearing a red bandana around his neck, and surrounded by ten other young smiling Marines.

“Scott’s father was a Marine,” Christina announced, as she entered the room. “Sorry, it took me so long to clear out the place.”

“No problem, mother,” said Scott.

Christina turned to Jessica. “Has my son been boring you with our ancient history?”

Jessie placed her arm through Scott’s. “I find his life story utterly fascinating.”

Christina smirked. “Of course you do.”

Jessie handed the picture to Christina. “Mrs. Harold, your guy was quite the stud muffin.”

“I prefer to remember Lieutenant Scott Harold as a wonderful husband, soldier, and patriot–not a stud muffin.”

“Sorry, I meant no disrespect, but he’s awfully cute.”

Christina smiled but didn’t respond.

“How did he die?” Jessie asked.

“He was killed in a firefight somewhere near the Cambodian border, but not before saving the lives of three of his men. Scott, Sr. was only twenty-two at the time.” Christina put her hand to her mouth and turned partially away.

“You must be very proud,” Jessie said, “He made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.”

Christina sighed. “I am…but regret that Scott Jr. grew up without a father.”

“It had to be hard on you too.”

“We managed.” After a long awkward silence, Christina asked, “So…how did you two meet–Laundromat, bowling alley…brothel?”

Scott frowned. “You know how we met, mother.”

“Oh, Scott, I don’t really care. Lust is natural in a boy, of course, but girls today; with their loose morals and provocative manner of dress. No wonder there are so many unwanted children. I suppose you two will want to sleep together.”

Scott restrained Jessie.

“First of all, I am not sleeping with your son–and even if I were, it’s none of your damn business. Where do you get off making snap judgments of people? I’ve half-a-mind to…”

“I don’t doubt the half-a-mind part, but Scott is my only son and I want what’s best for him.”

Jessie said, “He can make his own decisions.”

Scott interrupted. “Can I say something about this?”

Both women turned and yelled at the same time, “No!”

Christina addressed Jessie again. “You may think I’m an overprotective mother, but I don’t want Scott to climb on the first cute bus that comes along.”

Jessie clenched her fists. “He hasn’t climbed on anything yet.”

“All right, that’s enough,” Scott said. “Mother, you are being very rude to Jessie, and although she can be hot headed at times…”

Jessie shoved him. “Who’s hot headed?”

“…as I was saying, even though her temper flairs occasionally, I love her.”

Jessie said, “Sweet,” to Scott, and then got up into Christina’s face and stuck out her jaw. “See, he loves me.”

Scott forced his way between the women. “You both are acting like children. I expect it from Jessie, but mom you’re the adult here. Now either you two make up, or we’re leaving right now.”

The ladies stood their ground. Scott started for the door.

Christina grabbed his arm. “No, don’t go, I haven’t seen you in weeks.” She paused. “I might have been a bit harsh…”

“You got that right,” Jessie replied.

“Jessie…” Scott warned.

Jessie nodded toward Christina. “I’ll play nice if she will.”

Christina composed herself. “I’m sorry I spoke so bluntly. How about we start over?”

“Please, Jessie,” said Scott.

Jessie went silent for a moment. “Oh, all right. What the hell.”

Christina smiled. “Splendid. Let’s go downstairs for a cup of tea. You can tell me all about yourself, and I can share some of Scott’s little quirks.”

“Quirks, mother?” Scott asked.

“Yes, dear, she’s entitled to all the facts.”

Scott observed in amazement as his mother and Jessie walked off, chatting away like old friends as if nothing had happened. “Don’t worry about me,” he shouted after them, but neither one looked back. Scott would never understand women. He shook his head, had second thoughts about the whole “meet the mom” idea, and then went off to bed–alone again.

*********************************************

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Identity Check -Chapter Two

New exciting mystery-thriller now available on amazon.com on Kindle or paperback. Here’s the second chapter…

College junior Scott Harold, dressed in bleached-out jeans, a scarlet and gray varsity sweater, and brown penny loafers, looked at his watch–late again. He promised to meet Jessie for lunch but had run into some friends near the Natatorium and time had simply slipped away.

He picked up the pace, passing the William Oxley Thomas Memorial Library, weaving in and out of the hundreds of Ohio State students hurrying to class on the many sidewalks that crisscrossed the Oval. Chimes in nearby Orton Hall rang out the three-quarter hour as the powder blue spring sky started to cloud up. A few drops of rain fell on his face. Now he wished he’d listened to the WCOL weather report this morning before heading out to his six AM swim practice.

Covering his head with the campus newspaper, The Lantern, Scott waited for the light at Fifteenth and High Street to change. He smiled as he thought back to how he and Jessie had first met only a few months ago.

#

His fraternity, the Lambda Chi’s, wearing their traditional blue blazers, with matching striped ties, and tan chinos, had walked over to serenade the Delta Gammas. After the brothers finished the first song, instead of the girls coming outside to respond, the housemother stuck her head out the door, smiled mysteriously, and invited them inside the sorority house.

There, like a Busby Berkeley movie, poised on each step of a curving grand staircase, stood a bevy of the most beautiful women Scott had ever seen. On cue, the ladies slowly descended, each holding a flickering candle while singing a lilting ditty from Brigadoon. Although each girl appeared as beautiful as the next, he focused his attention on one particularly stunning young woman, who easily outshone the others, with her flashing eyes, high cheekbones, and international mystique.

Scott watched in fascination as this intriguing young lady, dressed in a flowing chiffon gown, got closer and closer, and then he broke out laughing when he spotted, just below the hem, a slip poking out imprinted with tiny Minnie Mouse figures. Black army boots adorned with polka dot laces completed the outfit.

Curious to meet this fashion diva, he worked his way through the boisterous crowd to her side. “Hi,” he shouted over the noise. “I’m Scott Harold. Love your boots.”

She looked him up and down, and then asked, “Are you wearing any underwear?”

Scott checked his zipper, relieved to see it remained closed. “Ah, yes, why do you ask?”

“You strike me as the kind of guy who might go commando to one of these shindigs.”

Scott blushed. “Thanks…I think…and you are?”

“Thirsty,” she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him toward the dining room. “Buy me a drink, and if you’re lucky, I’ll tell you my fascinating life story.”

They stood in line forever for a half-filled paper cup of chilled fruit punch, plus the last of the coveted chocolate-covered mint cookies and then found space to sit down on one of the living room couches.

She faced him, her brown eyes open full…their knees touching. “OK, you’ve got one shot–so, impress me.”

Scott thought, be bold, don’t hesitate, and don’t be clich├ęd. No, wait, what if she talks brash, but is really shy? Oh crap, I can’t screw this up. What should I say?

Jessie raised an eyebrow. “You with the zombie stare–did I put you to sleep, or is the pressure too great to carry on a normal conversation?”

He blurted out, “You are the most beautiful woman in the world–and I can lick my own eyebrows.”

She laughed so hard punch came out her nose. “Good one–and as a token of good faith in this negotiation, I am not wearing any underwear.”

“Would you go out with me?” he said.

“You’re cute, but a little dense. I’m giving off such a positive signal that I could be mistaken for a lighthouse. I think I’ll call you, Pookie.”

Scott frowned. “I’d rather you didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“What if I called you, Snookums?”

“Would it help with the Pookie thing?”

Scott shook his head. “Not really.”

“Okay, no nicknames, until we get to know each other better. Pick me up Friday night at eight.” She stood up to go.

Scott touched her arm. “Wait, what’s your name.”

She turned and smiled. “Jessie.”

#

That wonderful beginning had led to a series of incredible dates. Now Scott thought only of Jessie…his former girlfriends left far behind. His fraternity brothers had grown fond of her too. She had become a house favorite after showing up for the Hell’s Angels party on a Harley Fat Boy Classic, wearing nothing but combat boots, a red bikini, and a German World War Two helmet.

Today, Scott intended to take their relationship to the next level.

He entered the Char Bar and scanned the packed restaurant. It didn’t take long to spot Jessie because at five-foot-seven she easily stood out amongst the crowd. Wearing an open bolero-length leather jacket and jeans, she leaned against a high-backed booth, chatting away with Pam, one of her sorority sisters.

Jessie saw him approaching and loudly announced to the entire restaurant, “Mr. Scott Harold, here you are at last. I feared you had abandoned me. I’m pregnant and you won’t pay for an abortion. I’m ruined–ruined, I tell you.” She broke into tears and covered her face with her hands.

Several students within earshot gave him a disgusted look–including sister Pam, whose eyes grew so large she almost popped a blood vessel.

“Very funny, Jessie,” he said. “That’s not true…and please lower your voice, people are staring.”

Jessie took his hands but continued speaking at top volume. “When you left me that morning, ravaged from a torrid night of savage sex, you promised to love me forever. But by the next weekend, you couldn’t remember my name. Now I’m a gal in trouble, and you won’t return my phone calls.”

Pam’s jaw fell to her chest.

Scott whispered. “Tell Pam we haven’t done…it yet before she has a kitten.”

Jessie gave a clear, no holds barred laugh, wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed the end of his nose. He loved that laugh–one of her many wonderful attributes, along with her trademark scent that smelled like a blend of fresh flowers and the lusty month of May. Whenever he got a whiff, he would flashback to their last make out session.

The rest of the Char Bar patrons went back to their meals, as the couple slid into the booth opposite Pam. Jessie said, “So, where have you been, dummy?”

“Sorry–unavoidably delayed.”

“Well, don’t let it happen again, or I’ll tie you down and spank you–oh wait, I already did that!” She laughed again.

Pam shook her head.

A waitress, in matching white apron and cap, took their orders. He selected the usual huge amount of food required to fill his six-foot frame, while the girls chose a salad, accompanied by the Char Bar’s famous double-thick milk shake. It amazed Scott that he could eat as much as he wanted and never weigh more than one-eighty-five–thanks to the four hours a day he spent in the pool as a member of the OSU swim team.

Jessie said, “Okay, we’ve ordered. What’s the secret you wanted to tell me?” Both girls leaned in for his answer.

He loved the way her eyes sparkled when she smiled. She was a wonderful, complex, intelligent woman who kept him constantly on his toes. And although she liked to shock people with her brazen sex talk, they had waited to sleep together because she wanted the moment to be right. Who could guess that Jessie would turn out to be a Romantic?

He swallowed hard, turned toward her, and held out a gold twin heart promise ring in his open hand. “Jessie, would you wear my ring?”

Across the table, Pam squealed and nodded yes faster than a bobble head mounted in a speeding car on a bumpy road.

Jessie remained silent; her eyes guarding her thoughts, for what seemed an eternity. Finally, she said, “I don’t know, Scott. First, I agree to go out with you–and now you want me to wear a promise ring. People will say we’re in love.”

“Well…aren’t we?”

Pam’s head started bobbing up and down again.

“This is a giant first step, followed by engagement, marriage, and a baby carriage. Do you want lots of children, Scott Harold?”

He stammered. “I…I…uh…didn’t think that far ahead…well, ah…we might, uh, maybe…”

She laughed. “Don’t panic, I have no desire to march down the aisle quite yet either.”

Scott let out a sigh of relief. “So, what do you think?”

“Of course, I will, silly.” Jessie slipped the ring on her finger. “Now kiss me.” She pushed him against the back of the booth, pressing her body against his. Fortunately, she stopped after a few seconds or he might have burst. Jessie demurely brushed back her hair and took another sip of her milkshake.

“I should give out promise rings more often,” Scott said, mopping his brow with a napkin.

Jessie punched him in the arm. “Not if you want to live.”

“You two should be arrested for making out like that in public,” said Pam.

“Well then, we’d better keep it private.” Under the table, Jessie slipped her hand between Scott’s thighs.

“No w-way,” Scott’s voice broke, as he put Jessie’s hand back on her side of the booth. “I want to tell everybody that you’re my girl.”

“Let’s take out an ad in the campus paper.”

“Come on, I’m serious…and I want you to meet my mother.”

Jessie shook her head. “Not after what you told me.”

“Why, what’s wrong with his mother?” Pam asked.

“She can be a little intimidating,” Scott admitted.

Jessie twirled several of the dark brown hairs on the back of his neck around her finger. “Must I go?”

“Only for a couple of days. We’ll stay over Saturday night, eat a home-cooked meal, and then drive back to campus on Sunday. I can give you your choice of accommodation in our twelve room historic home.”

“So, where in this giant residence is your room?”

“Sorry, Mom’s an old fashioned kind of lady with a very strict Catholic upbringing. I had to learn about the birds and the bees from the neighborhood kids.”

“So asking her to join us is pretty much out?”

He gave her a look. “What do you think?”

“I get the picture–your mom’s legs are glued together, and no hanky panky for us on the schedule either.”

“I didn’t say that–we always could go watch the submarine races on the Miami River.”

Jessie kissed him on the cheek. “Now you’re talking. Who knows, you might get your periscope wet this weekend. ”

Scott chuckled. “Whatever am I going to do with you?”

Jessie smiled like the Cheshire Cat. “How much time before your next class?”

*********************************************

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