If Mitch Wilder wasn't in prison, he'd never discover the conspiracy to kill his son, Darren Hoffman. The only way to save his life is for Mitch to kill Pete Hoffman, the man who raised Darren. But Mitch doesn't have it in him to commit murder and searches for a way out of it. In desperation, Mitch barters for a pen and a piece of paper, which will change his life forever. He writes a note and gives it to a man who's about to be released, praying he'll deliver it to the right person, and on time. It will take weeks before Mitch knows if his son is still alive...or not.
April 12, 1972. Mitch Wilder blinked up at the early morning clouds as he and five other men shuffled toward a plain white van. Chains stretched from their waists to their ankles and waists, rattled as they moved. One by one they stepped up into the dark insides of the vehicle. A seasoned guard checked off their names on the clipboard and sneered at the convicts. It was only four o'clock, too early to be up and about. Dew glistened off the van. Mitch waited for the man in front of him to lift his foot up onto the steel step. The young guard on his right fidgeted with his gun belt, his eyes darting from one convict to the next.
As Mitch was stretching the chain so his foot could land on the first step, the man behind him yelled, “Boo!” The young guard pulled out his revolver, only to drop it in on the pavement. It clattered and slid under the van. The two guards that brought up the rear, ran up with their pistols drawn. The man behind Mitch let out an evil laugh.
“Move,” yelled the guard with the clipboard, giving Mitch a shove. Mitch scrambled onto the bench on his right. Someone pushed the last man into the van. He landed on the floor with a loud grunt.
“Damn it, Jack,” someone's angry voice came from outside. “You could have killed someone.”
The doors to the van slammed shut. Mitch could barely make out the form of the man as he crawled up onto the bench across from him. A sliver of hazy light filtered in bulletproof glass that separated the inmates from the guards up front. Young Jack slid into the passenger side and looked back at them as if they were going to gobble him up alive. Mitch wondered if they gave him his gun back. The driver, the guard with the clipboard, scowled at the young man before he turned on the ignition and pulled out of the lot.
Someone started to snore after they left the city limits of St. Thomas, Ontario. Mitch looked around to see that most of them were trying to sleep. Their long legs stretching out past the ones of the man across from him. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the side of the van. Sporadic dozing was all he got. He thought about things that he wished he wouldn't.
He missed his daughter's birthday, again. Leslie Scott was fourteen now, a bright teenager who hated his guts. Her mother, Sandy, an ex-wife, made sure of it. He knew why now. A year ago, she found out about one of his illegitimate sons, Greg McNaughton. Mitch had just learned about Greg, himself.
Mitch jumped when someone kicked the bottom of his foot. The chains rattling as he pulled in his feet. He kept a slitted eye on the big black dude sitting across from him. It was starting to sink in now, the seriousness of his situation. His stomach was ready to get rid of his breakfast. They ate two pieces of dry toast before they left. He sat up straight and pulled on the chains around his wrists and ankles. The other man finally leaned toward him. “I'm Bulldog, Mitch Wilder.”
Mitch looked around at the other inmates. Two had their eyes closed while two others glared at each other as if getting ready to kill the other one. Nobody seemed interested in the conversation. “I guess I don't need to introduce myself, then.” Mitch took in the big black man's features and knew why he had that nickname. He looked like a bulldog, with a flat, crooked nose and round piercing eyes. The man had big cheeks and a head full of kinky curls. Scars crisscrossed his face. He looked like a man who knew life behind bars. “I'll protect your ass in there for half of anything you earn or barter for.”
Mitch nodded. He heard of the gangs who preyed on the smaller guys, using them as slaves. Of the bigger and more powerful men raping the weaker ones. The safest thing for him to do was to latch on to a gang, if he could. The cop who arrested him, told him this.
Bulldog gave him a hard stare. “What? You think I want you for sex?” He sat back and laughed. “I don't need that from you.” Bulldog sobered. “I heard you have a big dick. There will be plenty of guys after you. Because of that and your good looks. Not to mention, you have a body most of them would drool over. You let me know who you want to bang, and I'll make sure you get him.”
“What if I don't want to bang anyone?”
“Can you hold off, Mitch Wilder? Will your own hand be enough for you for years on end? I know why you're heading to prison. Five years will seem like a lifetime.”
Mitch glanced at the other men. “How do you know so much about me?”
Bulldog shrugged. “It's not a secret. Everyone knows who you are. Watched the news every night during your trial.” He smiled and scratched at his crotch. “You're going to need a friend in there.” He leaned forward again. “You are him, aren't you? The one they say screwed 550 women.”
Mitch glared at him. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see some of the other men sitting up, taking notice. It wasn't that many, it was 538 that they could prove, and another six that they couldn't. But every time Mitch heard it, the number grew.
Dawn made it brighter inside the steel box they were in. They all jerked when the van hit a pothole. The man next to him turned his head and grinned. “Yep, it's him.” The man poked him with his elbow. “That right?”
“No,” Mitch said. “And it wasn't 550 either.”
The big man across from him laughed. “By the time we get to Millhaven, it will be 700.”
It took them five hours to get to Millhaven Prison; up near Bath, Ontario. They didn't stop for a better breakfast. It was just as well, it would have come back up anyway. Mitch saw Jack chewing on something when he checked through the window of the cab. By then he knew all the names of Bulldog's gang; there were five of them.
“How did you know I wouldn't end up someplace else?” How did Bulldog assemble a gang in Millhaven so soon?
“Judge Benton sends everyone there.”
Mitch couldn't see very much of the prison when they drove through the gate. They stopped inside a garage and the big doors closed behind them. The guards ushered their prisoners through a heavy steel door and into a small room. Mitch stripped off everything and watched a guard search through his clothes. A second guard put his clothes into a box.
As he stepped into a pair of bright orange pants with an elastic waist, he thought about his closet full of expensive clothes in his apartment in Hamilton. His suite in the Carlyle Motel in Ottawa, had just as many tailored suits. He sighed and pulled the matching ill-fitting shirt over his head. 4856 was stamped on both the front and back with bold black numbers.
Bulldog told him, along the ride, about the use of stamps. That was how he would be paid if they assigned him a job, or if he volunteered for one. No cash changed hands, at least not legally. These stamps bought extra items; such as soap, or books, socks, and anything else that they were allowed. An account was already set up for him so that his son, Darren, could send him money when he needed some.
Mitch and Bulldog were separated. Two guards led Mitch through several doors that opened for them after one of them talked into his walkie-talkie. His new home was a 6' by 8' room with cement walls on three sides, and the one with the bars. He mumbled to himself as he walked in. “It's smaller than my closet.” A steel sink and toilet sat along one wall, a bunk bed across from them. The top bunk was held up by chains anchored to the ceiling. Two shelves were on the wall above a small table which was anchored to the floor, with a steel chair in front of it, also bolted down. A small window with bars was above the table.
Mitch set his pillow, sheets, and blanket on the bottom bunk, claiming it as his. The guards left him then. He checked out of his tiny window to see the yard outside. A 30-foot, double razor fence surrounded it. A smaller fence was inside that one, probably as a warning not to get too close to the other one. Mitch wondered if it was charged with electricity. A tower stood in the corner he could see. Most of the inmates were out there now, milling about. Some were playing soccer. Mitch sat down on his bunk and held in his stomach for the next two hours.
A buzzard sounded at 11:30. Mitch watched the inmates leaving the yard out of his tiny window. He could hear increasing chatter as they filled the hallway inside and he went over to investigate. He noticed how they all lined up in front of their cells. Mitch did too, and soon learn that this was for a head count.
He was in A Unit, Range B, and would remain there until his assessment, which could take up to two months, or longer. This was to see how violent he was and to determine if he would re-offend or try to commit suicide again. Then they'd send him to the prison that suited him the best. He might even get to stay there. They adjusted his medication to a new dosage that left him somewhat woozy. He now wore a plastic wristband with his name and a list of his medication on it. The only one he could pronounce was Paxil, an antidepressant.
Mitch didn't sleep the first night. He lay in bed and listened to snoring and men having sex. It made him think of his last wife. Claire was married to Bob Marshall now. Mitch had to learn to let her go. This time he had lost her for good. In his heart he knew it.
Automatically, he reached for the chain around his neck that he kept her wedding ring on---promising himself he'd get her back. It wasn't there. Claire had destroyed both the chain and her wedding band. She wore another ring now. Bob was a good man. He'd take care of Claire. At least this gave Mitch some comfort, knowing that Claire was happy without him.
Darren Hoffman immersed himself in work for the next few weeks at the Great Lakes Shipping Company that he was now running for his old man. When he had time, he went into Western University to go to class and stayed with Jody Baxter. Wednesday, he left work at four o'clock and picked up Italian food for supper. Darren had also taken over his father's Hamilton apartment on Crystal Street. It was in a luxury building on the ninth floor. His girlfriend there, Lisa, didn't live with him, and he didn't want her to. He realized she'd only get on his nerves after a while with her praying about everything. They'd still see each other, he didn't want to give her up. And he did want his kid in his life, unlike his own father. As yet, he hadn't told anyone he was going to be a father, except his cousin, Todd Breckenridge. Todd convinced him to keep his kid, and to help raise it. It was the best advice I could have gotten, Darren thought, as he walked down the hall to the apartment.
“Hurry up,” Leslie told him. “I have to go.”
Darren smiled at her as he tried to fit his key in the door and juggle his packages. “Just hold on a minute.”
“You should have gone before we picked you up,” Tammy told Leslie.
“I can't help it if you guys were late.”
“Here.” Greg took the key from him and unlocked the door. “Can't you do anything?” He smiled up at Darren. Leslie ran past them.
“I bought you supper, didn't I?” Darren laughed as he took the bags into the kitchen.
Greg looked around with his mouth wide open. “You live here?” He sat in a chair and swung his legs back and forth.
“Yes. It's Dad's place. I'm staying here until he comes home.” He noticed Tammy looking around the room, her lips pursed into a thin line. Darren couldn't tell if she was impressed or not. “What do you think?” he asked her.
She turned to face him. Her eyes were sad. “Just thinking about how my dad has struggled all these years to pay for a dump.”
“Your Dad in Orangeville?” The one who raised her.
“Yes.” She glanced at Greg, who was watching them with keen interest, then she forced a smile.
“I wrote to Jeff,” Leslie said, rejoining them.
Darren turned to take dishes out of the cupboard. “Oh? You tell him about all of us?” He set the plates on the table. Tammy wiped her eyes with the back of her hand before she reached into the bag and took out a Styrofoam box.
“Yep.” Leslie watched Darren after she sat down across from Greg. “I'd like to know who my brothers and sisters are. I asked him to write back.”
Greg said to Darren, “I hope he's as neat as you are.” He picked up the tongs and jabbed it into the spaghetti.
Darren took the tongs from him and dished spaghetti onto a plate. “Here, save some for me and your sisters.”
“I can eat all that, you know?” Greg boasted.
“Yeah, but we have to eat too.” Tammy winked at him.
Leslie poured them all a glass of milk. Darren looked at his glass and remembered a time when he drank chocolate milk right out of the container. When did he stop doing that?
After supper they played Go Fish and Crazy Eights. Darren drove the kids home and got a hug from them both, promising that he'd see them again soon. Tammy stayed and cleaned up the kitchen. They settled into a relaxing evening after Darren returned, talked about Mitch's trial and wondered how many more siblings they had.
Tammy was cooking breakfast the next morning when there was a knock on the door. Darren couldn't say anything after he opened it. He was looking at...himself. Except the young man who stood in front of him had dark blond hair, a little longer than his. He was also thinner than Darren, and taller.
“I'm looking for Mitch Wilder.” The dude stuck out his hand. “He's my dad. And by the look of you, you’re my brother.”
Darren stepped back to get the guy out of the hallway. He shook the hand. “I'm Darren.”
“Chad. My name is Chad Carson.” Chad looked around then said, “Something smells good.”
Tammy walked around the corner then stopped and stared at Chad. He smiled and introduced himself. “Have you had breakfast?” she asked.
Chad shook his head. “Just a cup of coffee.”
Chad ate with them, eating as if he was starving. Darren set his empty coffee cup down. “So,” he said to the young man. “How did you find me?”
Chad ran a hand through his wild hair. “I didn't know about you. I just wanted to find my real father.” He sipped his coffee then held the cup in front of him. “Three years ago, my mom caught my dad with his secretary. During one of their fights she told him that I wasn't his kid. So, after she started dating this guy I can't stand, I decided to look for Mitch Wilder.”
Darren nodded, his dark hair started to curl around his ears. “How old are you?”
“Nineteen. I turn twenty on May 25th.
As far as Darren knew he was still the oldest of Mitch's kids. “I turn twenty-five on June 28th. And Tammy will be twenty-one on October 24th.”
Chad had hitchhiked all the way from Niagara Falls, New York, and missed all the media hype about Mitch's trial. Darren had Leslie and Greg for a few hours, for the first-time last night. Tammy Kendall was a beauty who had shown up during Mitch's trial. The results of her blood tests hadn't come in yet. But Darren knew she was his sister; just like he knew Chad was his brother. They all had the same eyes, hazel. The shape of them were unique too, they were more oval with a slight downturn of the eyelid on the outer corners. This seemed to attract the opposite sex. All of Mitch's kids were good-looking...so far. The only one he hadn't met was Jeffery Taggart, who lived in Alberta. His picture also made Darren believe that he was another brother. Sixteen-year-old Jeff had reddish colored hair. His trucker mother had testified against Mitch, about his temper, and abandonment of his own child.
Blood tests proved that Greg was Mitch's son. The nine-year-old seemed to think that Darren was a superhero. Darren noticed the kid watching him closely and imitating him.
Tammy refilled everyone's cup, then they migrated into the living room. “How long did it take you to find us?” she asked Chad as she settled on the couch beside Darren. Chad chose the matching chair right across from them.
“Three months,” he said. “After I came across some write-up about Mitch's brother taking off with half of the shipping business.”
Tom Fleming was the one Chad was referring to. Mitch's stepbrother. Darren leaned his elbows on his knees, holding his cup in his right hand. “He separated out his half of the business. That's all.”
Tammy turned to Darren. “I know I met most of the people in your hometown. But can you explain some things to me?”
“Sure,” he said, then took a sip from his cup. “What do you want to know?”
“Lily Marie is your wife, right?”
“Yes, and you want to know how Bret Campbell fits in.” Darren let out a big breath. Tammy nodded. “He's her lover.”
“So, you are separated, then?”
“Oh. I thought they lived in your house.”
“They did. They're moving out.”
“You let them live in your house?”
“Yes.” That way he could keep an eye on them. He took another sip of coffee before continuing. “She knows I have a mistress.” He had two. One lived in London, the other one there in Hamilton. Lily Marie knew about the one in London. She knew he hired hookers as well. Something Mitch got him into. Except, they closed the agency his dad used. He'd have to find another source to get hookers.
“Wow,” Chad piped in. “Then, why did you get married in the first place?”
Darren lifted his cup and peered at him over it. “I love her.”
A half hour later, Darren stood in his entryway and kissed Tammy on the cheek. She returned the kiss then said, “I have to get back to Orangeville. I'm going to apply for a leave of absence from work. Or maybe take some vacation time.” She smacked Chad on the cheek with a kiss then picked up her suitcase. “I'll call,” she told Darren. “Tell Todd I hope to be back in a couple of months.”
“I'll tell him.” Darren crossed his arms and watched her walk through the door. “Don't moon over him too much. He's quite possibly related to you, you know?”
She turned back and let out a huge sigh. “I know, he's probably my cousin. But for now, I'll just fantasize about him.”
“Make sure that's all you two do about each other. At least until we know for sure.”
“Yes, big brother,” Tammy said to Darren then smiled at Chad. Darren closed the door behind her and headed toward the kitchen.
“Who's Todd?” Chad asked, following him.
Darren started to clear the dishes they'd left on the table. “Todd Breckenridge. His dad was married to Mitch's sister, Nora. She died two years ago in June.” The day after he married Lily Marie.
Chad put the milk in the fridge then just stood there. “How many cousins do I have?”
“One. Nora had a lot of miscarriages. And Dad's stepbrother, Tom, doesn't have any kids.”
“When do I get to meet these people?”
“Soon, if you help me do up these dishes. If you want, I'll take you down to Port Shetland. That's our hometown.” Darren filled the sink with water and squirted in dish soap.
Chad grabbed the tea towel that hung on the stove handle. “Tammy said I have to see the doctor there, to give blood.”
“Yep. To make sure you're one of us.”
“What will that do?”
Darren stopped washing a cup and looked over at Chad. “I don't know exactly, but it's court ordered. Anyone who thinks they're Mitch's kid has to prove it.”