Mrs. Entwhistle is Back

(Now available on Amazon in both paperback and E-book formats.)

When a distant relative, an Amish teenage girl, asks to come for a visit, Mrs. E. can’t say no. Anna May Bontrager is pretty, smart, and discontented with her life. She meets a charming young carnival worker named Joey, who rides a motorcycle and has Bad Boy written all over him. What could possibly go wrong? Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine must call on all the wisdom they’ve earned and learned in their long lives to cope with the complications Anna May brings. In Chapter One, Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine take a tour bus to Anna May’s home territory.

Chapter One

The summer morning fell open before them like a ripe cantaloupe. Golden and green fields stretched to the horizon on either side of the bus. The sky was as round and blue as an overturned bowl. Outside, serenity reigned. Inside was a different matter.

“The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round,” Maxine sang.

“Stop that!” Mrs. Entwhistle clapped her hands over her ears. “Now you’ve got it in my head and I’ll be hearing it all day.”

“It’s called an earworm, and you’re welcome,” Maxine said, grinning.

Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine were diligent about snagging the first seats in the tour bus. Mrs. Entwhistle needed to see the horizon. She hated to admit she got motion sickness, but it couldn’t be denied. If she had a front-row seat and kept her eyes straight ahead, she could manage. Some of the other passengers muttered about people who felt entitled to the best spots, and Mrs. Entwhistle felt bad about that, but she said, “Needs must when the devil drives.”

“I wonder what that even means,” Maxine mused.

“Don’t know, but my mother always said it when she was pushed to extremes,” Mrs. Entwhistle replied.

“Speaking of extremes, I’ve really got to go,” Maxine whispered.

Mrs. Entwhistle craned her neck around for a perilous look backward. Her stomach immediately gave a warning lurch. Eyes front!

“I don’t see anyone heading toward the restroom,” Mrs. Entwhistle reported. “Go ahead.”

“But I just saw Frank come out a few minutes ago.”

They gazed at each other in mutual consternation. Frank’s recent presence in the unisex bathroom was a serious deterrent.

“I’ve got disinfecting wipes,” Mrs. Entwhistle said, reaching for her big tote bag.

“And I’ve got air freshener,” Maxine said, patting her capacious purse. “But still…”

“I know. Do you think you can wait until we get to the hotel?”

“Maybe, if I sit very still,” Maxine said.

They saw Frank’s wife, Mary Alice, heading for the back of the bus.

“How does she live with that every day?” Maxine wondered out loud.

“Perhaps she’s lost her sense of smell.” Mrs. Entwhistle’s nose wrinkled at the thought.

They laughed, but not too hard. Maxine couldn’t afford it.

“So here we are,” Maxine said, “one of us with a needy bladder and the other with carsickness. Tell me again why we’re on a bus trip?”

“Cheer up, honey. We’ll be there in a few minutes. See, there’s the city limits sign: Seltzburg, An Amish Community. I guess I should feel like I’m coming home, even though I’ve never set foot here before.”

Mrs. Entwhistle had distant ties to the region. Her grandfather on her mother’s side had been brought up nearby in an Amish family. Mrs. Entwhistle had been indoctrinated from an early age on stories about Jonas Hershberger’s courage, industry, and kindness, and she loved to pass those stories along. Despite her resolution to not become one of those boring old people who repeats herself, she couldn’t resist a good opening, and here one was.

“Jonas Hershberger,” Mrs. Entwhistle told Maxine again, “left his home and family when he was sixteen and moved south. Just think, he didn’t know anybody, English was his second language, and he had only an eighth-grade education. Can you imagine the courage and resourcefulness he must have had?”

Jonas prospered through hard work and frugality, opening a small repair shop and soon becoming the go-to guy for broken lawnmowers and washing machines back in the days when household items were repaired, not discarded. He married a Southern girl who shared his work ethic and careful way with money, and somehow they parlayed the little repair shop into a general store. Then they bought a couple acres of land just outside of town, raised goats and chickens, kept a cow for milk, and introduced several tow-headed, intelligent children to the world. One of them was Mrs. Entwhistle’s mother.

Family folklore celebrated the quick-witted ancestor who piled strength upon strength, becoming modestly rich while never quite losing the trace of Pennsylvania Dutch accent that made his j’s into ch’s and his w’s into v’s. “I chust thought if you vas going that vay anyhow…”

Mrs. Entwhistle’s memories of her grandfather had faded to a comfortable sepia brightened now and then by the retelling of family stories. Until she got the letter.


Anna May’s calloused bare feet hardly registered the feel of the splintery wooden floor.  The deck outside the restaurant was in full sun and the patio umbrellas weren’t much help against the heat. She hoped the sweat on her forehead wasn’t about to drip on the customers.

“That’s a BLT, egg salad on rye, and a cheeseburger; all with iced tea,” she said, writing rapidly on her pad.

Once she’d turned in this order, her shift was over. Pop would be waiting in the buggy. The horse would be standing patiently at the hitching rail, flicking his tail at the flies that literally bugged his days. Anna May sighed inwardly at the thought of the slow jog home, the smell of liver and onions that would be floating from the kitchen (because it was Tuesday), and the chores she’d toil at until dark.

As an Amish girl, working at a paying job in the community was a privilege extended to her only for the benefit of the family. Mom and Pop reminded her of that every time she handed over her paycheck, receiving only a small allowance in return. They could withdraw their permission at any time. Then she’d be stuck on the farm all day, every day. The tourists who made up the restaurant’s clientele could be annoying, but at least they were new faces. Anna May tried to tamp down the restlessness that made her toss in her bed at night.

School had been a wonderland for her. Text books the other kids found boring opened new worlds to her, and the library was a constant source of joy. She wasn’t allowed to check out novels from the school library, but if she finished her schoolwork, she could spend the rest of study hall reading. She got through Lorna Doone and Treasure Island that way. Having to leave before she finished David Copperfield was a continuing sadness.

With her sixteenth birthday, the education compelled by the state ended. Amish kids didn’t graduate from high school. High school was considered a bridge too far, a temptation too great. Maybe young people exposed to science and literature and trigonometry wouldn’t want to return to the farm, to the Amish way of life. Worse yet, maybe raging teenage hormones would promote a romance with an English person – a non-Amish individual. That was something to be avoided at all costs.

Anna May knew all that, but on the eve of her sixteenth birthday, she approached her father. She had to at least try.

“Pop, do you think it might be possible for me to stay in school a little bit longer?” She’d clasped her hands together to stop their trembling.

“Why, Anna May, what would you do with all that book learning?” Pop smiled indulgently at his bright daughter. “You’ll get married, have a houseful of children and be a good Amish mother like your Mom. You can read and figure better than most already. Any more learning would just make you discontented.”

Too late, Anna May thought.  She bowed her head in submission.


The tour bus disgorged its passengers at the hotel’s front doors under a canopy displaying the sign, Seltzburg Inn. It was an imposing building for such a small town. Not even a town; a wide place in the road, really. But the Seltzburg Inn was within walking distance of the Seltzburg Flea Market, and it stayed solidly booked during the summer season. Town residents had quickly adjusted from living in a sleepy backwater to hustling for the tourist dollar.

Maxine quick-walked toward the bathroom while Mrs. Entwhistle scoped out the big hotel lobby. The space was filled with light and the staff seemed to wear perpetual smiles. There were huge blow-up photographs of Amish life, with the people seen only from the back, which fascinated Mrs. Entwhistle.  As she worked her way down a corridor lined with pictures, Maxine rejoined her.

“Why don’t the pictures show their faces?” Maxine asked.

“They never face the camera,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. “There’s a Bible verse forbidding graven images, and they believe that applies to photographs.”

“So, no baby pictures? No wedding photos, or special occasion snapshots?”


“It seems disrespectful to picture them at all, then; it’s like an ambush,” Maxine said, and Mrs. Entwhistle agreed.

But they couldn’t help enjoying the photos of an Amish blacksmith bent over the dinner-plate-sized hoof of a patient Belgian draft horse, and a trail of ducklings waddling behind a tiny boy in a straw hat. Another featured a dog riding high atop a hay baling wagon. That made Mrs. Entwhistle miss her dog, Roger.

“I’m worried about Rog,” she said to Maxine.

She’d said that at regular intervals since they’d left home. Usually, if she traveled and couldn’t take him along, she left Roger with friends or hired someone she knew to stay at her house and look after him. But this time none of her friends were available, and she had to leave Roger at a kennel. True, it was his own vet’s facility, where Roger had been so many times that it might have seemed like home to the old fellow. But still. A dog used to sleeping on his human’s bed would have a hard time adjusting to life in a kennel. Mrs. Entwhistle had bought him a new bed to take along and filled it with one of her old sweaters and a towel from home so he’d at least have the comfort of familiar smells.

“I hope the other dogs’ barking isn’t driving him crazy,” she said.

“That’s one good thing about being deaf,” Maxine said. “I bet Roger can’t even hear them.”

That was a comforting thought, and Mrs. Entwhistle decided she’d go with it. There wasn’t a thing she could do for Roger until she got home, anyway.

Maxine and Mrs. Entwhistle always packed light. No sense in taking a lot of clothes, they agreed. Sitting on the bus didn’t call for high fashion, and besides, they were experts at mixing and matching. They picked up their two small bags from the pile of luggage dumped in the lobby by the bus driver and headed for their room. Once there, Maxine insisted on leaving the bags outside the door while she performed a reconnaissance.

She threw back the bedcovers and peeled the fitted sheet from the mattress. Illuminated by her phone’s flashlight, she ran the edge of a credit card along the mattress seams.  Nodding in satisfaction when she didn’t find anything suspicious, she advanced to the bathroom, flung back the shower curtain, eyeballed the tile grout for mold, inspected the bathtub for stray hairs, flushed the toilet, and shook out a bath towel.

“It’s spotless,” Maxine decreed.

“That’s because they have Amish cleaners,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. “Did you notice the woman pushing a cleaning cart in the hall just now?”

“I did. But I didn’t know Amish women worked outside their homes.”

“I didn’t think so, either; apparently, times have changed.”

“But isn’t the whole point of being Amish making sure that you don’t change with the times?” Maxine asked.

“Well, maybe not the whole point, but a big one, anyway. Young couples can’t count on farming to make a living anymore, because the available farmland is pretty well taken. So some of the men work in trailer factories and some of the women and girls take service jobs. There’s a big tourist industry here in the summertime. I imagine it put them outside their comfort zone at first, but they adapted. They had to.”

“Surely they are capable of doing more than factory work,” Maxine said. “Aren’t any of them in professions? Teachers or doctors or something?”

“Oh, no doubt they could be, but without an education…” Mrs. Entwhistle’s voice trailed off.

“But they must go to school. It’s the law.”

“You know, that law actually went to the Supreme Court in 1972. I looked it up. The court ruled that Amish are exempt from compulsory schooling after the eighth grade because of their religious beliefs. They can quit school then, and they do.”

“But why?”

“The Amish believe their rural way of life only calls for the ability to read, write and do basic math.  Anything beyond that might tempt their kids to stray from Amish beliefs.”

Maxine shook her head. “Well, I certainly respect their religion, but it seems a shame to arbitrarily stop learning and experiencing the world at a certain age.”

“The young people have one more option to sample what they call the English life. When they are in their mid to late teens, they can go on rumspringa.”

“I watched a television show about that,” Maxine said, pursing her lips disapprovingly. “There was a lot of drinking and drug-taking and car wrecks. Of course, that might have been exaggerated for the show.”

“Maybe,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. “But I think a fair amount of that does go on. The hope is that the kids will sow their wild oats and return to the Amish way of life. Most of them do.”

“But some don’t?”

“No. Some don’t. My grandfather didn’t. They call it ‘going high,’— Jonas went high and left the Amish.”

“My folks used his repair shop,” Maxine said. “Mother always said the children, including your mother, were beautiful, with one blonder and prettier than the next.  She claimed to be jealous.”

“My mother was the youngest. Grandpa died when I was a child, but whenever I smell butterscotch, I think of him. He always had butterscotch candy in his pocket for me. I can’t remember his face, but that smell takes me right back to him. Isn’t it amazing the memories that scents trigger?”

“Not if you’re Frank’s wife,” Maxine said. She didn’t have to worry about laughing too hard now.

Mrs. Entwhistle Minds Her Own Business

Available on Amazon on November 1, 2021

Chapter One

Tiny mewling sounds translated themselves in Mrs. Entwhistle’s sleeping brain as the cries of a kitten. She dreamed she was stroking its soft fur as it looked up at her trustingly. Gradually, she became aware that she was in fact stroking her pillow. But waking didn’t eliminate the sounds of a creature in distress.

Mrs. Entwhistle switched on the bedside lamp. When her eyes had adjusted to the light, she looked around her bedroom. Everything was in order just as she’d left it the night before.

Roger was asleep curled up on her fleece bathrobe at the foot of the bed. The old dog was almost completely deaf, and nothing short of an earthquake disturbed him these days. Gently, she scooted him off her robe without waking him and fished for her slippers. She’d have a look around.

Holding onto the double railings that Floyd had installed when they’d turned sixty-five, she descended the stairs to the main floor. The whimpering sounds seemed to be coming from the front of the house. She flipped on the outside floodlights and threw open the door.

A huddled figure on the porch swing sat up, and the little bundle in her arms traded whimpers for a full-throated roar. It was a baby. On her porch. In the middle of the night.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” Mrs. Entwhistle asked above the racket.

“It’s me, Mrs. Entwhistle. Delilah. And J.J.”

“Delilah! What in the world?”

“I had, like, nowhere else to go,” Delilah said. “I just got on the bus and came. But it was really late when we finally got here and I didn’t want to disturb you, so I thought we’d just wait here on the porch until morning. I guess I fell asleep. Did J.J. wake you?”

“That’s neither here nor there, child. What’s happened? Why aren’t you at Jean’s?”


Mrs. Entwhistle had first encountered Delilah during the Route 66 road trip she and Maxine had taken. After being car-jacked and left alone on a deserted desert road, she’d come upon a remote cabin where a very pregnant teenager, Delilah, was hiding, awaiting the return of her lover. When Delilah went into labor, Mrs. Entwhistle delivered the baby and eventually delivered both of them to Delilah’s Aunt Jean. That was more than a year ago and several states away. She couldn’t fathom what brought these unlikely visitors to her door, but first things first.

“Come inside, honey. We’ll wake the neighbors with all the fuss this one is making. Is he hungry?”

“Probably, and wet and upset. Me, too.”

Delilah drooped under Mrs. Entwhistle’s scrutiny. Her eyes were smudged with purple shadows stark against the pallor of her skin. J.J. stopped crying, stuck his thumb in his mouth and eyeballed the strange house. He looked world-weary, as if he’d already seen more than he could process. Delilah deposited him on the couch and plopped down beside him with a sigh of exhaustion. Mrs. Entwhistle’s heart went out to her.

She’s worn slap out, and the baby is, too. Whatever is wrong will wait until they’re in better shape to talk about it.

“Let’s get J.J. changed and fed before we do anything else,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. “Do you have diapers with you?”

Delilah dug in a big bag she’d been lugging on one shoulder and produced a diaper, handing it to Mrs. Entwhistle with a mute look of appeal.

Mrs. Entwhistle flipped the little boy on his back, unsnapped his onesie, and changed the diaper expertly.  Some skills last forever, and hers were still so effective that J.J. relaxed. He sensed he was in the hands of a pro. She tucked him under his mother’s arm and went into the kitchen.

Oatmeal, tea, toast. It was only four a.m., but those two needed to eat. She set the table and went back to fetch Delilah, only to find the girl sound asleep. J.J., however, looked up trustingly and held out his arms. Mrs. Entwhistle was reminded of the kitten in her dream. She eased him from his mother’s grasp and carried him into the kitchen. Holding him on her lap, she fed him bites of cereal and toast while she drank a cup of tea. As his tummy filled, his eyes drooped. Soon, he leaned against her and slept. His silky hair tickled her chin, and she breathed in the nostalgic scent of baby shampoo.

“My goodness, J.J., that takes a person back,” she said softly. “Some things don’t change. I wondered if I’d ever see you again, and now here you are.”

It was tempting to sit there forever, but she had things to do. She carefully deposited him beside his mother on the sofa and tiptoed out of the room. Grabbing her phone, she hit Maxine’s number.

 Wait ‘til she hears this.


Maxine crept into Mrs. Entwhistle’s living room to survey the sleeping mother and child. Her grin stretched from ear to ear. She pumped her fist in the air and mouthed “yippee!” Mrs. Entwhistle pulled her into the kitchen and shut the swinging door.

“Yippee, indeed,” Mrs. Entwhistle said softly, “I’m glad to see them too, but the big question is, why are they here? Something bad has to have happened for Delilah to bring the baby all this way on the bus.”

“I know, but I’m just so tickled to they’re here, whatever brought them,’” Maxine said. “What do you think it was?”

“I can’t imagine she had a falling-out with Jean. They seemed so close and so delighted to have each other. Maybe something with Delilah’s parents? We’ll just have to wait until she wakes up and can tell us.”

At that moment, they heard the shuffle of little feet and the door moved an inch. Mrs. Entwhistle jumped to open it, remembering how little fingers could get pinched. J.J. held his blanket to his cheek with one hand and regarded them with big eyes.  His tentative smile brought both women to the melting point.

“Oh, my goodness,” Maxine murmured, scooping him into her arms. “Hi, J.J. Do you remember me?”

The baby searched her face and reached for her glasses. “I think he does remember me,” Maxine said, dodging his fingers. “Or even if he doesn’t, he likes me.” She tickled the little boy’s tummy until he laughed a full, rich chortle that made them laugh, too.

While Delilah slept on, the women fed J.J. a second breakfast of scrambled eggs and orange juice. The family high chair had long ago been donated to charity. J.J. was too small to sit at the table by himself, so they took turns holding him on their laps as he ate. His sloppy attempts at feeding himself were met with indulgent smiles.

“Hasn’t he changed!” Mrs. Entwhistle marveled. “He’s about one now, but walking already and so growny!”

“Yes, but I’d know him just the same,” Maxine said, spooning a bite of egg into J.J.’s mouth, which he opened like a baby bird. “He still has the look of Delilah, especially around the eyes, but I don’t know where those ears comes from.”

“Papa, I guess. Wherever he is.”

Delilah’s lover, who had also been her high school teacher, had made a hasty exit two steps ahead of a statutory rape charge and, as far as Mrs. Entwhistle knew, had never been heard from again.

“It’s just a pure shame this little boy will never know his daddy,” she said. “But who knows, he may get a new, better daddy. Delilah is just a child herself, and she’ll marry at some point.”

“Well, I hope she makes a better choice next time.” Maxine shook her head.

“It really wasn’t her fault,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. “She was seduced at sixteen by her teacher, an authority figure. She was vulnerable and gullible. Remember how we were at sixteen?”

They both smiled, shaking their heads, sharing unspoken memories. Their long friendship stretched back to their childhoods, and their histories were an open book to one another. Once Maxine had given Mrs. Entwhistle a kitchen towel that said, “You’ll always be my best friend. You know too much.”

Delilah made her appearance at that moment, yawned her way to the table, sat down and burst into tears. Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine didn’t say a word. They remembered that Delilah had to get a certain amount of crying out of her system, and until she did there was no use trying to comfort her. Maxine pushed over a box of tissues, and Mrs. Entwhistle poured tea. Then they went on feeding and talking to the baby. Slowly, Delilah composed herself and reached for her tea.

“I guess you’re wondering why we’re here,” she began, setting down her cup in the saucer with a clink.

“You don’t have to tell us until you’re ready,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. “Why don’t you go upstairs and take a shower, change your clothes? You’ll feel better when you’re put together for the day.”

Delilah looked doubtfully at her baby boy. “What about J.J.?”

“We’ve got him. Go on. The bathroom is the first door on the right, and there are towels in the linen closet.”

“I didn’t bring any clean clothes, though,” Delilah admitted. “Just grabbed a change of underwear and a few things for J.J., and we were out of there.”

“Okay, let me see what I can find.”

Mrs. Entwhistle went upstairs to Diane’s old room. She’d been pleading with both her adult children to take what they wanted from their bedrooms so she could, once and for all, clear the rooms out, but her pleas had fallen on deaf ears. She thought both Diane and Tommy secretly liked the idea of their childhood domains remaining as shrines.

Diane’s closet contained a few items of clothing so out of style they were in again: acid-washed jeans and concert tee shirts. Mrs. Entwhistle took the best of them and put them in the bathroom. She wasn’t sure about the size, but Delilah was so thin now that she could get into almost anything.

Finally, Delilah returned to the kitchen, scrubbed and wearing Diane’s cast-offs, looking like she was about twelve. Mrs. Entwhistle couldn’t help remembering the same look of bewildered panic in Delilah’s eyes when she went into labor in that remote desert cabin.

Mrs. Entwhistle waited until the girl had eaten, then leaned forward and said, “Now, tell.”

And Delilah did. “Aunt Jean died,” she said starkly, her eyes brimming with tears again. “She had a heart attack, I guess, and died in her sleep. I was the one who found her. She never got up before noon, but when she hadn’t come out of her room by two, I knocked on the door. She didn’t answer, so I went in and…I knew right away. She was so still. The doctor said she had an enlarged heart, and it didn’t have much room in there, you know.”

Jean was a little person. She’d looked a miniature picture of health in her spangled tutus and light-up sneakers, but inside her tiny body lurked the seeds of heart disease that would kill her just as the happiest chapter of her life unfolded. Mrs. Entwhistle’s own heart squeezed in sympathy. Life was cruel sometimes.

When Delilah’s father caved in to her mother’s decree that Delilah could not return home with her baby, Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine had driven them to Aunt Jean’s house in the ghost town of Glenrio. The old town straddled the border between Texas and New Mexico, and Mrs. Entwhistle thought it also straddled the border between fantasy and reality. There Jean lived in her Victorian mansion, alone since the death of her husband. When Delilah and J.J. entered her life, Jean was reborn to love and laughter. Her niece became the daughter she’d never had, and the baby her grandchild.

She had plans, Jean did, and the resources to make them happen. Delilah would finish her high school education with a home tutor. Then she’d go to college. J.J. would grow up with the example of strong women before his eyes. But those plans died with Jean.

“I tried to stay in the house after Jean died,” Delilah continued, “but, well, you remember that house.”

Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine nodded, their heads filled with memories of high ceilings, dark, ornate woodwork, heavy swathes of velvet draperies and creaky old floorboards underfoot.

“I guess I’m a big scaredy-cat, but it was spooky without Jean. I kept thinking I saw her around every corner. And at night, that old house rattled and banged like a ghost was trying to get in. I know it was lame of me to be scared in the safest place I’d ever lived, but I was. Besides that, I missed Aunt Jean so much. It was hard to be in her house without her. It just felt so empty.”

“Yes,” Mrs. Entwhistle murmured. “I know that feeling.”

“Daddy is the executor of Aunt Jean’s estate, and he made the arrangements for her burial. He said she left everything to me, and eventually when it’s all settled, I guess I’ll get a lot of money. Daddy said it will take time, though, for the will to go through probate court or something so he can sell the house. I mean, who’d buy that house?  Who’d want to live in Glenrio? Without Aunt Jean, there’s nothing there.”

The desolate stretch of desert was reflected in Delilah’s face.

“So Daddy said to come home with him, and I did, even though I knew Mother didn’t want me there. Like, I didn’t know what else to do. I stayed in the guest cottage and tried to keep out of her sight. Daddy was great; he came to see J.J. every day. But he acted like he was sneaking around. Once we saw Mother looking at us out the window, and he quick handed J.J. back to me with the guiltiest look.”

Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine had met Delilah’s mother a couple of times. Only their good manners prevented them from calling her what they thought she was.

How could any woman reject not only her daughter, but her first grandchild? Mrs. Entwhistle telegraphed silently to Maxine.

She doesn’t deserve them, Maxine telegraphed back.

Delilah continued her story. “I was so wrecked about Jean that I didn’t know what the heck was going on. I guess I wasn’t picking up on the hints. Mother came out to the cottage one day and laid it on the line. She said I was trying to get between her and Daddy, making him be disloyal to her, using my brat—that’s what she called her grandson—as an excuse to be like, a lazy leech.”

Delilah exhaled a long, shaky breath.

“After that, I just had to get out of there, but I didn’t know where to go. Then I thought of you and how you rescued me before. I know it’s bad to barge in on you like this. I should have at least called. I’m sorry; I can’t think straight right now.”

“You did exactly the right thing, child.” Mrs. Entwhistle gripped Delilah’s hand and squeezed. “We’re so happy to see you and J.J. again. Why, I was afraid I’d never lay eyes on the only baby I ever brought into this world, and here you are. It’s like a dream come true.”

Delilah managed a watery smile. She hadn’t been anyone’s dream come true for a long time.

“And you’re welcome at my house, too,” Maxine said. “We both have loads of space, plenty of room for you and J.J.” She smiled shyly and added, “Room in our hearts, too.”

That did it for Delilah. Her head went down on her folded arms, and she sobbed. Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine exchanged worried looks, but they let the girl cry it out. They knew it sometimes takes a lot of tears to wash away the debris of life. After a few minutes, Delilah lifted her head and reached for the tissue box. She wiped her face and blew her nose.

J.J. had been remarkably quiet during their conversation, but he’d had enough of sitting still. “Ow!” he said, pointing to the window. “Ow! OW!”

“He wants to go outside,” Delilah translated. “He loves to be outdoors and won’t let up until I take him.” She stood and picked up her son. “Come on, then, big boy, let’s go out.”

Mother and child stepped out into the rosy dawn of a summer morning, and when they’d shut the kitchen door behind them, Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine sighed simultaneously. They shook their heads, their lips in thin lines.

“Well. I never,” Maxine said.

“Nor I. I’m at a loss, Max. What do we do now?”

“Well, for one thing, we don’t have to worry about custody. Delilah must be eighteen by now, or close to it, so we can’t be accused of kidnapping her. She’s an adult in the eyes of the law.”

That was a relief. When they’d been carting the girl and her newborn all over the Southwest, they’d worried that Delilah’s mother would make trouble which they’d have no legal standing to resolve.


“No, Cora, this isn’t the time to try to figure things out and make plans. We’ll give Delilah some space, help her with the baby, feed her up a little, and just let things unfold.”

Mrs. Entwhistle thought that there never was a better friend than Maxine.


Upstairs, Roger raised his head. His nose wrinkled as he sniffed the air. Something was different today. He rubbed his face on the bedspread to wake up his eyes, then stood and walked stiffly to the edge of the bed, where he looked down and calibrated his jump. When he landed, all four legs went out from under him. He lay there on his stomach for a minute, taking stock. There was still that intriguing smell in the air. The old dog waddled to the staircase and made his breathtaking descent.

He appeared in the kitchen, tousle-headed and curious. He saw the two humans he loved most in the world sitting in their usual places at the table; there was no sign of that mysterious other. He shuffled to the door and looked over his shoulder at Mrs. Entwhistle. It was time for his morning foray into the yard.

She smiled as she opened the door, knowing what a surprise was in store for him. Roger made his way carefully down the steps to the grass and squinted into the bright sunshine. There it was, the owner of that wonderful odor–a tiny human.

Roger’s tail went into overdrive as he trotted forward like a puppy. Roger adored tiny humans. He’d helped raise the Entwhistle grandchildren and grieved when they grew older and graduated to perfunctory pats on his head. Now here was a new little person who squealed with delight at the sight of him, so loudly that even his deaf ears picked it up.

Roger submitted to a tight hug, and covered J.J.’s face with kisses in return. The baby jabbered, and the old dog understood every syllable. Roger was in heaven.

Mrs. Entwhistle Takes a Road Trip

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Chapter One

It’s Never Too Late


“I’m under the doctor for the high blood pressure, so I take these blue ones, and the little red ones are betty blockers – or something like that.” Jacinta O’Reilly furrowed her brow as she shook her day-by-day compartmentalized pill holder under Mrs. Entwhistle’s nose.

Jacinta was apt to get a little confused in her old age, although, as Mrs. Entwhistle put it, she’d never been the brightest headlight on the highway. Now Jacinta paused to think.

“The only Betty I can think of is Betty Jo Smith, who used to teach Sunday School. Do you remember her?”

Maxine opened her mouth to answer but closed it again after a fierce look and a hissed whisper from Mrs. Entwhistle: “Don’t go down that rabbit hole.”

They were sitting in the day room at the Shady Rest Assisted Living Center. Mrs. Entwhistle and her best friend, Maxine, visited the Shady Rest every Wednesday afternoon. They were as old as many of the residents, but had been blessed with strong constitutions and resulting good health.

“Visiting is the least we can do; we’re so lucky,” Mrs. Entwhistle always said. But both of them dreaded it.

“It’s the organ recitals that get to me,” Maxine said as she drove them in her Lincoln Navigator. “You’d think they’d be glad to take a mental break from all their health problems and think about something new.”

She always brought a book to read aloud, but seldom got through more than a page or two before someone, often Jacinta, was reminded of an ailment that needed discussing. In detail.

But despite their frustration Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine continued to visit, knowing how long the days were for the residents. Today Maxine had brought a book by Fannie Flagg that she just knew would be a hit. Instead, they were talking about Jacinta’s pills again. Betty blocker, indeed!

Never the most patient of people, Mrs. Entwhistle was tapping her foot. Maxine watched with apprehension as the tapping grew faster and faster.

“I think it’s time for us to go,” she said when she thought her friend had reached critical mass and was about to blow. “We’ll see y’all next week. Come on, Cora, you need to let Roger out.”

Roger was Mrs. Entwhistle’s aged Shih’Tzu and it was certainly true that he needed to go out more often than ever before in his long life. Mrs. Entwhistle frequently had to get up during the night and escort the old dog down the stairs and out the back door. She accompanied him on these midnight excursions because she’d seen coyotes in the woods behind her house and knew Roger would be a mere McNugget to those wild scavengers. She had perfect confidence that she, at age seventy-nine, could fend them off through sheer force of personality.

Mrs. Entwhistle was uncharacteristically quiet on the way home. Maxine darted glances over at her, knowing something was coming. And it did.

“Max, do you ever want to just get up and go?”

“What do you mean? Go where?”

“You know, just hit the road. Remember that movie, Thelma and Louise? Like that.”

“I hope not just like that! They drove off a cliff at the end.”

“True. True. I wouldn’t want to do that. But I think I would like to go somewhere, get away from my routine and experience something new.”

“What brought this on?”

“I guess it’s being with the Shady Rest folks,” Mrs. Entwhistle said slowly. “I’ve known all of them for years. They used to be interested in other people and what was going on in the world, but now all they can think about is their ailments and medications and doctor visits.”

“Well, when you don’t feel good, that does tend to occupy your mind, don’t you think?”

“Oh, sure, I get that. But it’s just sad. There’s more to this world than counting out your pills. I think I’d like to get out there and see some of it. One last time.”

Mrs. Entwhistle sounded wistful. She and Floyd had never been able to travel as they’d planned when he retired. In fact, except for the trip she and Maxine had taken to Hawaii courtesy of her Publishers Clearinghouse winnings, she hadn’t been much of anywhere.

“It’s not that I don’t love my home. I’m grateful for it,” she continued, “and I’m not talking about a big elaborate cruise or anything. I just wish I’d seen more of the U.S.A. when I was younger. Do you think it’s too late?”

“What exactly do you have in mind?” Maxine asked.

“Let’s just pack up the car and take off.”

“Do you have your heart set on a destination?”

“I’d like to see the Southwest,” Mrs. Entwhistle replied. “You know how I love the book, Lonesome Dove. I’ve read it four times. Well, I’d like to see that countryside. Tumbleweeds and pueblos and the like.”

Maxine’s face lit up. “I know! I have a niece in Santa Monica who’s going to have her first baby in about a month. Her mama has passed. You remember, my youngest sister, Lucille?”

Mrs. Entwhistle nodded. “Yes, that was sad. She was too young.”

They were quiet for a minute, reflecting on the vagaries of life and how fast things could change. Maxine’s sister had gotten up expecting a normal day and had a fatal heart attack. You just never knew.

“I’d love to stand in for Lucille, see the baby and maybe help out a bit if Lucy Junior needs it. I know Lucy will miss her mother so much when the baby comes.”

“Santa Monica is near Los Angeles,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. She pulled out her phone and conjured up a map with a certain smugness at being able to do so. Her phone had caused her many hours of frustration and confusion as she was learning to use it, but she felt confident in her skills now.

“You know what? We could take Route 66 all the way like they did on that television show. We’d see some scenery and the route is far enough south that we shouldn’t get into terrible weather if we left right away. What do you think?”

The more they talked about it, the more they liked the idea. “We could take my car,” Maxine said, “it’s big and comfortable.”

“The gas, though,” Mrs. Entwhistle said.

“Yes, but we’ll be splitting the cost,” Maxine said. She was sensitive about what it took to drive her behemoth of a car down the road. “And my car really isn’t all that inefficient. I only drive it on short hops, so of course, it guzzles gas. But on the road, I bet it would do fine.”

“Hmm. Okay. We certainly couldn’t take my car, it’s pretty well toast. If I didn’t have the scooter, I couldn’t get around at all.”

Mrs. Entwhistle had gotten herself a pink scooter as a result of her friendship with Dex Shofield, intern and co-conspirator at the newspaper where they’d both worked, the Pantograph. Dex cut a dashing figure on his motorcycle. When Mrs. Entwhistle’s old car finally died, he convinced her to try a milder version, a Pink Vespa, herself.  She loved it. She liked to say that she rode her scooter with gusto, and if gusto couldn’t come, she rode alone – a joke that never got old as far as she was concerned. She knew her contemporaries uttered dire prophecies about what would befall her for riding a scooter at her age, but that just made the experience sweeter.

“Oh!” Mrs. Entwhistle was struck by a thought. “What about my job? Jimmy Jack counts on me.”

Jimmy Jack McNamara was her editor and boss at the Pantograph where Mrs. Entwhistle worked as a reporter – the oldest reporter ever, she suspected. She’d had –let’s say creative differences with Jimmy Jack, but over time they’d developed a working relationship that both respected.

“I’m sure Jimmy Jack would let you have a vacation,” Maxine said. “You’ve been working there for over a year and have never taken time off.”

“Yes, but I don’t want just two weeks,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. “I want an open-ended time to go wherever we want, and not be worried about getting back for work.”

“Well, you know what that means.”

“I’d have to quit?”

“I guess you would.”

“I need the paycheck, though.”

They thought for a while. Then Maxine said, “Do you suppose the Pantograph would want some travel articles?”


It turned out Jimmy Jack was amenable to the idea of travel articles. He’d come a long way since the days when all he wanted to do was put out the paper with as little effort as possible. Mrs. Entwhistle had been happy to revise her initial opinion that he was indolent, indecisive and ignorant. She felt a secret pride that she’d brought him along.

“It might be just the thing to broaden our horizons,” he said when Mrs. Entwhistle broached the idea to him. “Most folks around here go by car when they travel, so it would be of interest to our readers. Do you have a planned route and destination?”

“Well, we thought we’d head for California,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. “We’ve never been there, and Maxine has a niece in Santa Monica who’s going to have a baby. She’d like to see the young’un and maybe help her niece a little bit. We thought we’d take Route 66, like on that old television show.”

Jimmy Jack looked blank and Mrs. Entwhistle remembered he was too young to remember the program. “Never mind,” she said, “It was about two young men who set out in a Corvette to drive across the country on Route 66. Before your time.”

“Do you think it’s safe, though?” Jimmy Jack asked, worry creasing his brow. “I mean, the two of you aren’t as young as you used to be.”

Mrs. Entwhistle regarded him in frosty silence long enough to make sweat pop out along his hairline. “None of us are, for that matter,” she finally said. “I think Maxine and I are the best judges of what we can do.”

“Oh, of course you are, of course,” Jimmy Jack said, “I just meant…”

“I know what you meant.”

“Well, anyway, travel articles would be great, just great. If you feel up to it…” Another frosty stare. “I mean, of course, you’d feel up to it, you could take your laptop and just send me a story whenever you like.”

Mrs. Entwhistle took mercy on him and graciously agreed to file stories whenever the spirit moved her while she continued to get her regular paycheck. Satisfied with the outcome of their meeting, she hurried home to call Maxine and tell her their path was clear, at least that aspect of it.

Roger met her at the door, his filmy old eyes searching until they found her face. Then he attempted a happy shuffle, but it made him cough and he had to settle for wagging his tail.

“Oh, dear, Roger. What will I do about you?”

Time to Say Goodby


Oh and PS - Gerd Altman Pixabay

Or at least “see you later.”  I’m going to take a hiatus from the weekly flash fiction stories I’ve been posting for a couple of years now. Creating over a hundred stories has left me muttering and stumbling like a zombie, and nobody wants to see that.

Besides, I’ve got a book to finish. The redoubtable Mrs. Entwhistle and her friend, Maxine, are taking a road trip on Route 66. You wouldn’t believe what’s been happening to them. Below is a sneak preview of this work in progress.

I’ll post more flash fiction when inspiration strikes. Meanwhile, I’ve gathered some of my stories in a book called Snapshots, available on Amazon.

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I’ll miss our Sunday morning get-togethers, but we’ll talk soon.


Mrs. Entwhistle Takes a Road Trip 

(Excerpt from Work in Progress)

(In Chapter Three, Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine are driving on Route 66, having just visited the Catoosa Blue Whale in Tulsa. They’re heading for the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo when Mrs. E. experiences an urgent call of nature.)

“Max, I’ve got to have a pit stop,” Mrs. Entwhistle declared as they approached a ramshackle building set just off the road. The lopsided sign announced it was the Pigsticker Bar and Grill. Actually, the sign said Bar and Gr because some of the letters had fallen off. It wasn’t good to think about who was sticking what pigs, but Mrs. Entwhistle was desperate.

“This place looks sketchy, but they’ll at least have a bathroom. You can get a cup of tea. Well, maybe it’ll have to be coffee; it doesn’t really look like a tea-drinking place.”

Maxine surveyed the dilapidated building doubtfully. The lights had just come on in the parking lot, sparking on the gleaming chrome of a dozen motorcycles.

“I don’t know,” she began, but Mrs. Entwhistle had already pulled in, cut the engine and climbed out of the car.

“I can’t wait, Max, go ahead on in,” she said, hustling off with unusual speed to the outside door marked Cowgirls. “It’s all those Twinkies,” she called back over her shoulder.

Maxine followed more sedately. When she entered the Pigsticker, every head in the small, smoky room turned toward her. She stopped, hand on her heart. She’d never seen so many long-haired males in one place. There were man-buns, pony-tails, beaded head-bands and flowing locks unchecked on leather-clad shoulders. Everyone but her had elaborate whiskers.

“Oh,” Maxine said in a very small voice.

One of the men got up and came toward her. “Come on in, honey, don’t be scared of us,” he said, gesturing to an empty stool at the bar. “Sit yourself down and have a drink.”

He sounded so friendly that Maxine felt reassured.

“Oh, well, maybe just for a minute. My friend will be here soon.” She seated herself on the stool and tucked her feet on the brass rail.

“Now what’d you like to drink, honey?”

“Why, I guess iced tea?”

There were fond chuckles and a few comments: “Just like my grandma.” “Ain’t she sweet?” The atmosphere was positively sticky with sentiment. Maxine felt an obligation to return all that warmth. She sat up straight and smiled.

“You are all so nice!” she said. “Actually, I’ll have a beer.”

After that, time seemed to slow down and speed up at strange intervals. Maxine wondered where Mrs. Entwhistle had gotten to and what was taking so long, but her new friends kept motioning the bartender to refill her glass. They told her about their hawgs, which she learned were motorcycles, and about the road trip they were on, a trip they took every year. They loved their families, they said, but it was great to get out on the road again. Maxine nodded and asked questions when she could and drank her beer. Beers. When they started singing, she sang, too.

It was into this convivial scene that Mrs. Entwhistle finally entered. Her face was noticeably green and she clutched her stomach with one hand. But her physical ailments were forgotten at the sight of Maxine, singing and swaying with a lot of large, scruffy-looking men. Arms entwined, they harmonized on Hotel California and Maxine seemed to know all the words. Mrs. Entwhistle was reminded that Maxine was a dark horse and even after all their years of friendship, she could still surprise.

“Ahem,” she tried. No response.


“Oh, hi, Cora.” Maxine finally noticed her. “Come meet my new friends.”

“Yeah, Cora, come on over here. Have yourself a beer, or do you want something stronger?”

Mrs. Entwhistle wanted nothing at all, not with the way her stomach was acting. But it seemed churlish to refuse, so she perched on the stool vacated for her next to Maxine and asked the bartender for a Shirley Temple. The crowd erupted in cheers and Mrs. Entwhistle’s back was patted rather too enthusiastically.

“I swear, they’re just like my mama,” one of the men said, and shed a few tears in his drink. “Put a little vodka in that Shirley Temple,” he whispered to the bartender. “It’ll do her good. Bless her heart.”

Soon Mrs. Entwhistle found herself swaying and singing, too. They ran through Dixie, When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Thank God I’m a Country Boy, and then she lost track. When she looked at her watch, she couldn’t believe the time.

“Maxine! We’ve got to leave right now. We’ll never find a place to spend the night if we don’t get going.”

“Wha?” Maxine seemed to be having trouble focusing her eyes. “Ish it late?”

“It’s very late.” Mrs. Entwhistle launched herself from the tall bar stool, but the floor had developed an alarming tilt since she’d first sat down. A strong hand caught her arm and held her upright.

“I don’t think you ladies will want to be driving,” the owner of the hand said.

“We have to, we need to find a place to stop for the night.”

“Now, don’t you worry about that. You ever sleep in your car before? You ain’t in no shape to drive, neither one of you. We got blankets in our saddlebags, we’ll get you all set up.”

The ladies were helped to their car and the seats were lowered. Smelly blankets were tucked around them and the windows cracked a few inches.

“There now, you ladies just have you a good sleep. We’ll be here all night and we’ll look out for you.”

Mrs. Entwhistle’s eyes seemed happy to follow this suggestion. As she drifted off to sleep, the lead sentence of her next Pantograph article wrote itself in her mind:

Today we saw a blue whale and took up with a motorcycle gang.




The Cult Next Door

The Cult Next Door Image by congerdesign from pixabay

Corey’s bar was the fulfillment of a dream. The day his sign – Corey’s Pub– went up, he shed a tear or two. He fussed over every detail, from the coasters to the bartender’s bow tie, wanting it all to be perfect. The one thing he couldn’t control, however, was his neighbor. The headquarters of the Church of Synchronicity was right next door.

“Those people don’t drink, you know,” he said darkly. “That might be a problem.”

But he’d gotten a steal on the rent so he went ahead despite his misgivings. Characteristically, he initiated the hostilities once he was settled.

“That so-called church is nothing but a cult,” he’d say to anyone who’d listen. “Just because they’ve got money and powerful members, they think they can rule the world. Well, they are not going to rule me!”

“What have they ever done to you?” I asked.

“It’s their power and the way everything they do has to be such a big secret. The members are like prisoners. Some of ‘em look like zombies. You should see the poor slobs that have to clean the kennels. I think they’re being punished for something.”

The kennels were an especially touchy point with Corey. The captive hounds were situated right behind his building and the baying drove him mad. He’d scream out the back door, “Shut up, shut up!” causing even more chaos. “Why does a church need tracking dogs?” he’d ask, a rhetorical question which he’d immediately answer himself.

His customers shuffled uneasily when Corey got going. “You’re driving business away,” I warned him. “People come in here to relax, not listen to you rant.”

He did try to talk less about the Cult Next Door, as he called them, but he started doing stupid things like posting derogatory comments on Facebook and Twitter.

“Don’t poke the bear,” I kept telling him. “Live and let live.” But he couldn’t hear me.

Rumor had it that a certain Very Important Movie Star was building an apartment on the top two floors of the church’s building. Work trucks filled the street, often blocking traffic. Corey was beside himself because his customers couldn’t get through. He looked for an opportunity for revenge. When one of the contractors stopped by one day, Corey made sure the drinks were strong and plentiful. Before long the guy was spilling all kinds of inside information, and Corey was egging him on.

“It’s got six bedrooms and each of ‘em has its own marble bathroom. There are servants’ quarters for the live-in help. The kitchen – you wouldn’t believe the finishes in that kitchen, and the cook will be the only one who sees it.”

“I’ll bet it isn’t near as fancy as you say,” Corey said, goading the guy.

“Yeah? You don’t believe me? C’mon, I’ve got the key, I’ll show you.”

Corey not only went on the sight-seeing tour, he snapped a lot of pictures with his cell phone. His guide was too plastered to notice, but everybody noticed when those pictures went viral on social media.

“What are you thinking?” I asked him. “You cost that man his job and invaded the privacy of a celebrity who has all the money in the world. You think you’re going to get away with it?”

“What can they do?” he laughed. “I just gave them some free publicity, that’s all.”

“They’ll run you off. They’ve got the cash to do it.”

“I’d never sell to them, no matter how much they offered.” Corey slammed his fist on the bar for emphasis. “They can’t make me move.”

But, of course, they could. The entire building in which his bar was located was sold – yep, to the Cult Next Door. In record time, he got an eviction notice. He had thirty days to get out.

“I’m ruined,” he moaned, head in hands. “I’ll never find another place I can afford. They’ve finished me off.”

Corey was so miserable I have to admit I avoided him for a while. I’d heard stories that he’d lost his house and was couch-surfing with friends, so I was pleasantly surprised by his appearance when I ran into him on the street a couple months later. I’d never seen him look as well-groomed – dark slacks, pristine white shirt and polished shoes. He’d gotten a haircut and the beard was gone.

“You’re looking good,” I said. “Has your situation improved?”

“Oh, yeah. Never felt better in my life.”

“Did you find a place to relocate the bar?”

“The bar? That was yesterday; I wouldn’t peddle that poison today. I’ve got a lifetime of brand-new tomorrows now.”

That didn’t sound like Corey at all. “What gives?” I asked in alarm.

He beamed at me radiantly. “I was completely, totally wrong about the Church of Synchronicity.”

I waited to hear more, but his phone beeped a reminder. “Oops, gotta run. I’ve got a mind-melding class, and then it’s my turn to clean the kennels.”

Oh, And P.S.


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Attention: Frederick K. Lucifer

Please accept this letter as notice of my resignation, effective immediately. After ten years of working closely with you, I can honestly say I’ve learned a lot.


Wanda Winkler, Chief Deputy Assistant and General Flunky

Oh, and P.S.

I hope you won’t mind if I take this opportunity to leave some feedback. It’s given in the same spirit of constructive criticism with which you so often ruined my day. Consider it my exit interview.

I know you worry about your appearance because you often fish for compliments.  You know when you got that new haircut and asked me how it looked and I, trying to hang onto my paycheck, said great? I lied. It’s still a comb-over. And double-breasted suits make you look like the Penguin.

You ordered the permanent deletion of those photos someone (okay, it was me) posted online after the last Christmas party. Well, guess what: once something is on the Internet, it never dies. If you check social media, you’ll find those photos alive and well and having a lively afterlife.

Allow me explain what a “raise” is. A raise means I get more money. Obviously, this is a foreign concept to you.

Although you are much too busy with matters of great importance to bother about something as mundane as food, you should know this: when you raid the lunches in the office fridge, we go straight to our computers and research untraceable poisons.

Nobody wants to hear about the tax burdens of wealth. If it’s you vs. the IRS, we’re rooting for the IRS.

People are not really laughing with you.

Here’s an idea: seniority is when employees who have been with you the longest receive pay based on their years of service and abilities. When you hire new people for more than the old people are making, there are dreams of revenge. (See “photos” above)

And when the workforce dreams of revenge…(See “untraceable poisons” above).

But maybe I’m being too hard on you. Being a boss is a tough job. It must take maturity, patience, and the ability to both take responsibility and  give credit where it’s due.  Maybe if I was the boss, I’d…oh, wait! You know that hostile company takeover you’ve been worried about? It’s happening – I have it on good authority. In fact, I have it from my new boss, who just made me your new boss. You should be getting the revised organizational chart in your inbox soon.  It’s a bit of a demotion for you, but as you frequently said to me, feel lucky you have a job.

See you Monday.


Who Are You? – Part 4


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Moira had access to a wealth of resources in the crime lab. The first thing she did was check Jeremy’s birth certificate.

“The name on the original is Kirkpatrick. An amended version changing your name to Caudell was filed after your parents adopted you.”

“Bought me, you mean. So the birth certificates were no help in tracing my biological father. What other options do we have?” Jeremy asked.

“Good old DNA,” Moira replied cheerfully. “If you’ll give me a sample, I’ll run it through the data base for a match. It may take a while. The lab is always backed up.”

While they waited, it seemed natural for Moira and Jeremy to meet a couple of times a week to share information. Jeremy didn’t admit to himself how much he looked forward to those evenings. They’d sit talking for hours and Jeremy felt he knew Moira better than he’d ever known anyone. He secretly hoped the lab would stay backed up forever.

One evening Moira hurried in, her face alight with news. “I found him!” she said without preamble as she plopped into the seat across from him. “You aren’t going to believe this.”

“Tell me.”

“Now, brace yourself. This will come as a shock. Are you ready?”

“Jeez, just spit it out, will you?”

“Your father is Hank Kirkpatrick.”

“Hank! What about Myrna’s mysterious affair? If Hank’s my father, why did he sell me? Why would he do that?”

“I can only speculate that Myrna really didn’t know which man was the father of her child. Hank assumed you weren’t his.”

“But how did you get his DNA? He refused when I suggested it.”

“Turns out, it was already in the system. He’d had a traffic accident a couple of years ago in which he was at fault and the other driver was seriously hurt. The officer at the scene gave Hank a Breathalizer test and preserved the mouthpiece just in case. If the other guy had died, Hank would have been facing charges. Once I unearthed that piece of information, putting it together was simple.”

Jeremy recalled Myrna’s sorrowful face as she stood silently behind her husband at their front door. Hank said Myrna needed a lesson and he’d certainly given it to her. In a colossal mistake born of vengeance and anger, he’d sold his own son.

“It’s like an O. Henry story,” Jeremy said, shaking his head. “What am I supposed to do now?”

“O. Henry was known for his plot twists,” Moira said. “You get to write this one. How do you want your story to unfold?”


When Jeremy delivered the dinner invitation, Hank refused outright.

“Ain’t gonna happen,” he said with his trademark snarl.

A small, firm voice spoke up behind him.

“Yes, we’ll be there,” Myrna Kirkpatrick said. When Hank rounded on her with fire in his eyes, she faced him down for the first time in their long married life.

“We’ll be there,” she repeated, made brave by the need to reclaim her child. “We owe it to our son, Hank. We’re going to get to know our boy.”


The little group sitting around the dining room table was anything but at ease. Mr. and Mrs. Caudell were hosting Mr. and Mrs. Kirkpatrick and heartburn was on the menu. Moira rubbed a muscle in Jeremy’s shoulder that was taut as a wire.

“Will this night ever end?” he whispered.

“The next time will be easier,” she whispered back.

Jeremy had decided to get all his parents together in one room. He thought it was time they collectively faced what they’d done if there was to be any hope of reconciliation. After the last plate was cleared, he cleared his throat, stood and became the focus of all eyes. Moira winked.

“The past is the past and nothing can change what’s happened,” Jeremy said, “but there will be no more secrets going forward. We are an unconventional family, and maybe it’s too much to ask that you become friends. That’s up to you, but I’m going to treat the four of you as my parents, and I hope you’ll treat me as a son. Moira and I want to see you all sitting together in the front pew at our wedding.”





Who Are You? Part 3

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Jeremy was angrier than he’d ever been in his life. Grinding his teeth through sleepless nights, driving too fast, drinking too much, snapping at strangers – it was new to him, these feelings and this behavior. He’d always been a pretty laid-back sort of guy. But to find out, at thirty-three, that he’d been sold to his parents like a bag of groceries. To learn that his birth mother’s husband had paid off the mortgage with money he’d gotten for Jeremy.  It was just too much to process, and it was easier to be mad than sad.

It sounded like the kind of soapy TV drama he’d never watch, and at the bottom of the mess was a woman named Moira. If only she’d let well enough alone, but no, she kept digging and churning until she somehow uncovered the truth. He hated her for it.

He hated his parents, too. They’d misled him his entire life. Those honest, upright people, who wouldn’t pick up a quarter on the sidewalk in case the rightful owner came looking for it, had lied by omission. Yes, they’d always told him he was adopted, that he’d been chosen because he was special, but they skipped the fine print part of that story. Jeremy hadn’t seen or spoken to them since the night he found out the truth. As for his birth mother, what kind of woman would allow her nine-month-old son to be taken from her?  When Moira called “to check on him,” as she put it, he let her have it.

“You want to know how I am? I’m practically an orphan, thanks to you. Just butt out for a change and leave me alone.”

“Sounds like you need to talk,” Moira said, her voice warm with concern. “Let’s get together.”

His first instinct was to shout a resounding no, but he was bursting with feelings he’d bottled up inside. It would be a relief to dump them all on Moira. She deserved it.

They met at a neighborhood pub after work. The place was only about half-full and they had no trouble finding a private booth. Facing her across the scarred table, Jeremy dived right in.

“What made you pursue my kidnapping so relentlessly? Why did you even care?”

“I remember when you went missing. I was seven and it shook my world. It was a big factor in why I chose my career path. I just couldn’t forget the baby who disappeared.”

“Well, you carried it too far and now you’ve ruined my life. I think you owe me an apology.”

“Oh, no, I never apologize for telling the truth. You needed to know.”

Jeremy looked narrowly at the woman across from him. She had to be about forty, seven years older than he, but she didn’t look it. She met his eyes with a frank, untroubled gaze. Obviously, her conscience was clear.

“Look, my whole life went up in flames because of you,” Jeremy said. He hated the whine in his voice, but there it was.

“You had good parents, didn’t you? They gave you a great start in life and raised you with love, right?”

“Love and lies.”

“They wanted you so much they were willing to take a terrible gamble to get you. They must have lived in fear all these years, and imagine how they feel now. And your poor birth mother. She had to have gone through hell when her baby was taken from her. You were her love child, you know. When I consider Hank Kirkpatrick, I can’t blame Myrna for having an affair.”

“Rather than let him sell me, why didn’t she leave? Why didn’t she take me and leave?”

“You should ask her.”

“Yeah, sure. And I’ll ask my birth father, whoever he is.”

“You could probably find him if you tried. I bet he’s local.”

“And then what?”

“Just meet him, talk to him. If nothing else, you need to know about medical conditions you could inherit.”

“You make it all sound so easy.”

“It’s as hard as you decide it will be,” Moira said, smiling at him as she might smile at a pouting little boy.

Jeremy struggled with that for a moment. Moira had a lot of chutzpa, but he had to admit she made sense. He’d been so wrapped up in his own feelings that he really hadn’t thought about what his parents were going through. A little niggle of empathy and another niggle of guilt broke through his hard shell of self-pity. He was acting like a jerk. Moira had led him to that realization so gently that his anger slipped away, replaced by a feeling of being understood and accepted, anger and all. Maybe she was right about his father, too. There was no doubt she was resourceful; she’d make a good ally.

“So, my father,” he said. “If I decide to look for him, will you help me find him?”


Who Are You? – Part 2

Who Are You M P from Pixabay

Jeremy hadn’t even wanted to go to the book discussion group, but he was interested in the young librarian who led it. Joining her book club would get him noticed. He whistled The Things We Do For Love as he tucked in his new shirt and headed out the door. If he’d been pressed to put his thoughts into words, he might have said ordinary day, ordinary guy, good to be alive. He had no premonition that he was walking into a vortex.

He surveyed the crowd of mostly middle-aged ladies at the library without much joy. He was paying a high price for the pretty librarian. But one woman looked at him with the intensity of a laser. She immediately crossed the room and introduced herself: “I’m Moira.” Puzzled, he’d asked if they’d met before. She said, “In a way. I’ve been looking for you.”

That was the beginning. She took his arm, led him firmly to a nearby diner, settled into her side of the booth and proceeded to turn his world upside down.

First off, his name. He’d been Jeremy Caudell all his life. That’s what his parents called him and it was his legal name on all the documents that defined him for the world. But this Moira person said his name was Andrew Kirkpatrick, he’d been kidnapped from his crib when he was a baby, and he had parents, “real” parents, who still watched and waited for his return. He was Andy? His parents weren’t really his parents? He’d been kidnapped? Jeremy shook his head. He was getting angry.

“What are you talking about?” he said, glaring across the table at Moira. “Where did you get this crazy idea?”

And Moira told him, patiently unraveling her life-long obsession with the baby who’d gone missing and had never been found. She described her job in the crime lab, how she’d worked from a baby picture to make a forensic forecast in clay of his adult face. Here she paused to produce her phone and show him a photograph of her sculpture. Jeremy was silenced by the unmistakable resemblance. He felt the hair on his arms raise, a sign, his mother always said, that you were hearing the truth.

“I’m sorry, I know it’s tough, but I think you have a right to know,” Moira finished.

“I can’t believe – I won’t believe – my parents kidnapped me,” Jeremy said slowly.

“Were you adopted?” Moira asked.

“I was. I’ve always known that.”

“Better ask your folks how that came about.”

Jeremy went directly to his parents’ house. Sitting in the familiar living room, he recounted Moira’s story, expecting a storm of indignant denial, or maybe even laughter. As he talked, his mother’s head drooped lower and lower. His father’s face got paler and paler. They were silent.

Then his mother looked up. “I always knew this day would come,” she said.

Sick with confusion, Jeremy stood and left without another word.

Of course, he went to see his so-called birth parents. He approached a little house with glowing windows. It floated in the dark like a ship at sea, and Jeremy felt he was diving into very deep water. He rang the bell and the porch light came on.

“Yes? Can I help you?” The elderly lady who answered the door looked him over indifferently.

“Are you Myrna Kirkpatrick?”

“Yes. What do you want? I don’t buy from door-to-door salesmen.”

“That’s not why I’m here. I understand you had a son named Andrew.”

“My son died as an infant.”

“Did he? What if he’s still alive? I’ve been told I was that baby.”

“Hank?” She turned and called over her shoulder, her voice fizzing with panic. “Hank, come quick. There’s a man here who says he’s Andy.”

Hank shuffled to the door in sheepskin slippers and a cardigan with leather elbow patches. His glasses slid down his nose and he re-anchored them to consider Jeremy.

“Look, mister, I don’t know what your game is, but it won’t work.”

“Just let me explain,” Jeremy pleaded. “Let me come in and explain.”

“You can say what you’ve got to say right here.”

For the second time Jeremy told the story of abduction to a set of parents. The couple listened without expression, but the woman’s eyes brimmed with tears she didn’t even seem to notice.

“So I think we should all take a DNA test and find out for sure if I really am your child,” Jeremy concluded.

“No way!” Hank snapped. “I won’t give back the money, I sold that kid fair and square and it’s been more than thirty years ago.”

“Sold? But what about the kidnapping you reported? What really happened? Tell me! I have a right to know.”

“I don’t know about your rights, but I’ll tell you just to get rid of you. Myrna, here…well, that baby wasn’t mine and I didn’t want to raise another man’s by-blow. Myrna needed to learn a lesson, and I needed some cash.” He shot a poisonous look at his wife. “Paid off the mortgage with what I got for that little bastard. Don’t know who you are, with your fancy DNA talk, and don’t care. It’s ancient history now, and if you go to the cops I’ll say you’re a con man trying to take advantage of us. Now clear out.”

The door swung shut and Jeremy heard the dead-bolt slide into place, locking him out, locking his past in. He turned and walked heavily back to his life. An ordinary life where nothing would ever be the same.





Who Are You? Part 1


Who Are You M P from Pixabay

Moira carefully shaped the damp clay to make a cleft in the chin. The baby’s picture showed that cleft and it was something that wouldn’t have changed with age. She raked some strands of hair over the brow, then stood back and looked critically from her work to the photograph she held in one hand. It wasn’t much to go on – an image of a baby who’d vanished from his crib one night while his parents slept in the next room. Moira had been seven at the time, and the unwelcome knowledge that a neighborhood child could just disappear had a profound effect on her.

His name was Andrew Kirkpatrick, he’d been nine months old when he disappeared and he’d never been found. His parents had no more children. They continued to live in the little house to which they’d brought Andy as a newborn, “so he can find us when he comes home,” as the mother was quoted in a newspaper follow-up article some years later.

Nobody ever figured out what happened. The grief-stricken parents were under suspicion themselves, and when the case went cold, nobody ever bothered to exonerate them. They lived under that cloud for the rest of their lives. Moira had never met them, but she could imagine what it was like to be watched and suspected. Her decision to choose forensic science for her college major arose from a desire to solve mysteries like this one.

“You’ve watched too much CSI,” her Dad said. He’d tease her by singing, “Who are you? Who, who, who, who?”

“Isn’t it depressing, recreating the faces of dead people?” her mother asked.

Moira agreed good-naturedly that she probably had watched too much CSI, and said, no, it didn’t depress her to honor the unidentified dead and unfound missing by showing the world their faces. And maybe it would help. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of her recreations solved a cold case and allowed a family some peace?

“Not that they’d ever really have peace in their hearts,” she added. She knew that.

Moira made a forensic forecast in clay of what Andrew Kirkpatrick would look like as an adult. There were sophisticated 3D laser projectors available, but somehow she needed to shape Andy’s face with her hands. She brought to the task her training and technical expertise, but also her artist’s intuition. It was inexplicable, what happened as she worked. Something seemed to guide her hands and the finished product surprised her with its humanity. When she was finished, she showed it to her boss.

“Good work, Moira,” he said, and looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. “Keep that up and you’ll crack some cases.”

But after a photograph of her sculpture was printed in the newspaper, it raised no leads. There were a couple of phone calls from the poor souls who routinely called at such times, but no new information.

Andy’s memory haunted her. In her dreams he was sometimes an infant, sometimes  an adult. In one dream, he told her what happened to him and she startled awake. Instantly, his words were gone. Tears soaked her pillow when she couldn’t call them back. So near!

Stop it, she scolded herself. Now you’re believing in dreams. What’s next, a Ouija board?

Moira drove past the Kirkpatrick house one night after work, peering at the lighted windows. She felt a tug of connection to that tiny intersection of theory and reality. It became her routine to pass the house every night, even though it was miles out of her way. Andy would be thirty-three now. What kind of life might he have had? Or was still having? His body had never been found. What if he had been brought up by whoever took him, and was now an adult with no knowledge of his past?

Sometimes she feared she was bordering on the obsessive, so she tried to banish Andy from her thoughts. It was possible during the day when she was busy at work, more difficult on her own time.

As a distraction, she joined a book discussion club at the library. The group met every third Thursday evening and members took turns suggesting books to read. She couldn’t remember who proposed a true-crime book about famous unsolved cases. Sure enough, Andrew Kirkpatrick’s kidnapping filled one chapter.

She resolved to say nothing about her involvement in the case. When it was her turn to weigh in on the book, she’d just say it was well-written and well-researched. No way would she tell about creating an adult face from a baby picture, about a lonely house with a light in the window. No way would she creep everyone out with that story.

There was a new person at book club that night. With an inward sigh so profound it turned her bones to water, she recognized him. That cleft chin – she’d shaped it with her hands and she could still feel it. She’d know him anywhere. On trembling legs, she walked directly to him and held out her hand.

“Hello,” she said. “I’m Moira.”

His brow wrinkled. “You seem so familiar. Have we met before?”

“In a way. I’ve been looking for you.”