Topics for Discussion
Interview with the Author
Order directly from havenbooks.net (guaranteed delivery)
Order from Amazon.com
The darkened offices of the California Department of Forestry were
illuminated only by the eerie light of a blinking video screen, and Deputy
Delmar Johnson was going to spend the evening with a ghost.
Though Chris Christian's body had never turned up, Del was beginning to
have his doubts the missing woman would be found alive.
Using only the flickering video light, Del was squinting, doing his best
to read the button designations of the VCR remote control. Technically, he
shouldn't be in the offices so late at night, but it was his custom to work
during the wee hours, and old habits die hard.
It was a matter of economic necessity, placing the San Luis Obispo
County Sheriff's off-site offices in shared space, and the new building
lacked the charm of the old-California stucco municipal structures, but Del
had settled in comfortably, and - thanks to his computer expertise - enjoyed
being regarded as the technical hotshot.
At the moment, he wasn't so sure he deserved the title. Certain he'd
finally discerned the difference between Fast Forward and Search, he pressed
a button and the blue screen sprang to life with the rapidly talking figure
of a blond woman standing in a playground. Horizontal lines of static stood
still as the figure raced through her story, and Del struggled to press Stop.
Rewinding the tape, he started it again by hitting Play, deciding to be
more patient with the opening designations. White letters on a field of
royal blue read:
KSB-TV NEWS FILE
KSB SUNDAY NEWS MAGAZINE
REPORTER: CHRIS CHRISTIAN
ARCHIVE NUMBER: 0395749:0CC889A
SUBJECT: ADOPTION [THREE PART SERIES]
"WILL THIS LOVE LAST?:
IF I ADOPT THIS BABY WILL SHE BE MINE FOREVER?"
A second or two after the writing faded, Chris Christian appeared, her
blond hair held by a barrette of some sort, a tan blazer worn over black top
and slacks. A striking woman, her flawless makeup seemed out of place in the
playground where she stood, but the professional appearance and the calm
demeanor inspired confidence, and she spoke with a voice of authority.
While the camera lens zoomed back, Chris advanced, clasping her hands,
looking down, then up at the camera, all the while introducing the topic of
her show. If Del remembered his broadcast terminology, this would be what
they called the Teaser.
"Adoption," said Chris in her news-voice. "It's one of the most
consuming interests among Americans today." Chris stepped toward a swing,
and sat carefully in its leather strap. "Three thousand five hundred children
are adopted annually in the United States, with the trend rising 86 % since
1995. And the rules have changed."
Del sat in the video room, eerie light reflecting onto the slatted
blinds, pale gray walls offset by black trim and matching track lights giving
it a sleek, modern appearance. He watched the screen as the camera once
again zoomed in on Chris Christian's face.
"It used to be that adoption was a private - and an irrevocable - matter.
If you, as a parent, gave up your child for adoption, you knew you would
never see that child again, and knew, too, that it would be better for the
child not to suffer the confusion of meeting a parent he or she had never
known. Each state has its own laws regarding adoption, and as a general
rule, records were not legally sealed, but were kept strictly confidential by
a kind of gentlemen's agreement.
"While in most cases it is still difficult to find missing parents, or a
long-lost child, recently developed websites mean that frustrating searches
now take weeks or months, rather than years, and the Internet is teaming with
information concerning all aspects of adoption. As a nation, we seem
consumed with uncovering our biological connections, no matter how valuable
adoptive parents may have been in the life of a child.
"Tonight we take you on the first of a three-part journey into the
mysteries and emotional turmoil of adoption. If you adopt a child, will it
truly be yours forever?"
After a brief pause, and a flash of white letters reading INSERT
COMMERCIAL A, the program resumed, and Del watched with mixed emotions. "A
child of five is taken one day from the only home she's ever known," said
Chris's voice-over. Del watched the screen as a wailing child held its arms
out yelling, "Mommy! Daddy!" while the adoptive parents stood paralyzed,
tears streaming down their faces. On the far side of a police car, the
couple who were apparently birth parents stood waiting to reclaim the child
they'd given up several years earlier.
Three more three-minute reports followed, interviews with both sets of
parents, interviews with Child Service professionals, and a wrap-up by Chris.
Pressing Rewind, Del sat in the darkened room deeply affected by the raw
emotion he'd just watched. Everyone in the story had rights; no one seemed
to have achieved a happy ending.
Forcing his mind back into professional mode, he hit Play and began the
tape again from the beginning. This time it was details he was after - not
details of the story, but of the reporter and her surroundings. The
playground. He couldn't be sure, but he thought he recognized the Miller
Street Elementary School in Santa Maria. That would make sense - shoot the
footage close to home.
As the tape played through, he looked at the background, pausing the tape
intermittently to jot down notes, or to see if he recognized the face of a
passerby. Nothing seemed remarkable. He ejected the tape, and inserted the
second in the stack he'd borrowed from KSB. The blue screen and white
letters were familiar.
KSB-TV NEWS FILE
REPORTER: CHRIS CHRISTIAN
ARCHIVE NUMBER: 0395749:0CC889B
SUBJECT: ADOPTION [THREE PART SERIES]
"FINDING MY ROOTS:
SEARCHING FOR THE PARENTS I NEVER KNEW"
Del watched as the blue screen gave way to Chris Christian, standing once
again in the playground. "Adoption: it's one of the most consuming interests
among Americans today." Chris began her second report with the same opening
sentence. Then she introduced the topic of her second segment. "Many
adopted children grow up in stable and happy homes, never giving much thought
to the fact that their adoptive parents are not blood relations. It is they
who are there for them day in and day out. It is they who are there from the
first skinned knee, to the achievement of graduation, with everything good
and bad that happens in between. In every meaningful sense of the word,
these people are family, the parents who cared enough to raise the child.
Why is it, then, that increasing numbers of adopted individuals begin a
search for their birth parents? Find out in tonight's segment, Part Two,
Finding My Roots: Searching for the Parents I Never Knew."
Glued to the screen in the small, dark room, Del took in story after
story of young people who felt increasingly unsettled, until they went
through the sometimes long and frustrating search for birth parents. "These
people feel they have 'rights,'" explained Chris's voice-over, "the right to
know their own physical history, the right to confront birth parents."
Chris's coverage revealed a young woman who begins her search and finds a
mother who'd been raped as a teenager. The mother wants nothing to do with
the child she'd tried to forget; the father's still in jail, serving out his
sentence. Was the young woman happier for knowing the details of her birth?
Del couldn't see how. But another story turns out very differently: a young
man is himself a new father, and the baby suffers from a rare disease. By
tracking down his genetic parents, he uncovers needed information about his
child's health, and begins a slow but apparently fulfilling healing process.
Pressing Stop, Del stood and stretched, jotting down a few more notes,
and then exited to the corridor to retrieve a cup of so-called coffee from a
vending machine. His hot drink in hand, he returned to the video room and
resumed his screening session. The white letters said:
KSB-TV NEWS FILE
REPORTER: CHRIS CHRISTIAN
ARCHIVE NUMBER: 0395749:0CC889B
SUBJECT: ADOPTION [THREE PART SERIES]
"A CHANGE OF HEART:
FINDING A CHILD GIVEN UP FOR ADOPTION"
Chris again began her segment in the same location, with the same words,
then continued with: "Say you found out you were pregnant at the age of
eighteen. Your family threatened to disown you if you kept the child. You
were not yet out of high school, and your only hope of employment was
waitressing, but the restaurants that offered to hire you would not allow you
to work while you were pregnant. You decide to have the baby anyway - and
then decide it's more than you can handle. What if twenty years have gone by
and you've decided it's time to find the long-lost child? Find out in
tonight's special report: 'A Change of Heart: Finding a Child Given Up for
Del fast forwarded through the next blank spot in the tape and pressed
Play when he saw Chris talking again. "Tonight, in Part Three of our series,
we look at adoption from the point of view of a parent who gave up a child
years earlier and now wants to reconnect. Of all the difficult aspects of
adoption, this one is perhaps the most emotionally charged.
"We begin our story with this man - we'll call him Edward - who was told
only last year that he has a son: a son who by now is twenty-five years old."
Chris's voice-over narrated images of a middle-aged man walking from his
mailbox to his front door. "After months of persistent effort, he located
the boy he'd never known." Tears came to the man's eyes as he read the
letter he'd just opened. "Now Edward and his son have been reunited." The
camera revealed an airport scene, where father and son - the physical
resemblance unmistakable - shook hands, then embraced, the mutual bear hug
lasting for several seconds.
"Although this was a joyous reunion, it has made life for both men more
complicated. Both have other families; both have anger about the opportunity
denied them by the former wife and mother who long ago decided to conceal the
fact that another family member existed. Since she died several years ago,
no one has the option of asking her burning questions; nor does she have the
option of explaining her choice.
"Complex as this can be for men, in many ways it's even more so for
women." The story continued as Chris, now in a different outfit, in footage
shot on a different day, was followed by the camera into someone's office.
The voice-over continued: "A woman now in her fifties agreed to meet with us,
to explain some of her sorrow, and some of her pain. But she's not just any
woman; she's Dean of Students at Coronado Community College. Today we meet
with Dr. Sheila Swain, Ph.D." Del noticed Chris Christian's voice was still
unwaveringly authoritative, but perhaps more emphatic than in the previous
interview. She was, after all, not any more immune to these stories than he
was, watching from the safe removal of videotape.
After introductions, the woman began her story. "I was just seventeen
when I found out I was pregnant," explained Sheila. "My mother'd raised us
alone, and getting rid of the baby wasn't even discussed." The woman was
black, attractive, well spoken.
"So you gave birth even though you weren't married?"
"Yes. There wasn't going to be a marriage with the father of my child.
He was just a child himself, really, though of course, I couldn't see that at
the time. He wasn't ready for the responsibilities of fatherhood, and made
"So it was you and your mother."
Dr. Swain looked away, then back at her interviewer. "You see, it was,
in fact, the wrong paradigm to be working with; but we had no means to change
it, or so we thought."
"Explain what you mean by 'wrong paradigm,'" Chris said, her back turned
three-quarters away from the camera.
Drawing herself up till her posture was perfect, Dr. Swain rolled her
almond-shaped eyes, and a tension pursed her wide lips. "Well, the
assumption in the black community was that the father would not be there.
It'd happened so often through our history, beginning with the enforced
breaking up of black families during the time of slavery, that it became a
consistent part of our heritage." Her voice husky with emotion held in
check, her diction flawless and dignified, she continued. "Therefore, the
only father-figures young black children grew up with were the local
preachers, and it was the churches that became the centers of the community.
It was in the churches that families got everything from a reason to dress
right, to a good square meal."
Flashing back to his own childhood, Del thought about Sundays with his
mother. Scrunching his face, he'd endure the endless rituals of
face-washing, hair-combing, and tie-tying. His shoes polished, his coat
brushed, and his hands and face scrubbed almost raw, he'd slide as low as
possible down the wide front seat of their third-hand car, and rattle off to
church, hoping his friends didn't see him in his newly cleaned state.
Mother'd been one of the pillars of the AME Church just a few blocks away,
and Sundays were the highpoint of her week, especially when it was her turn
As services rattled on, he'd puzzle with God's justice and the justice he
saw on his streets, trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, jumping up
whenever the music started, singing and swaying with the congregation. But
best of all, were the smells coming up through the old wooden floorboards.
The cooks in the basement kitchen knew what they were doing, tantalizing the
sinners to repent, and promising the faithful a foretaste of heaven. Fried
chicken, grits, fresh cornbread, warm salted gravy, greens, lemon pie, all
were being prepared by the mothers in their vast aprons. To disobey these
formidable women meant severe punishment, but they rewarded obedience with
mouth-watering, soul-satisfying victuals exquisite enough to provide a
lifetime of culinary memories.
Del realized he'd lost track of the tape as it'd played through, and he
pressed Rewind. Rubbing his eyes, he resumed near where he'd left off.
"...good square meal." Yes, those were the words that had touched off his
"As a young woman I had no expectation of creating a nuclear family. My
concept of extended family was excellent - there were aunts, neighbors,
friends of all ages, coming and going through a busy household. But
generally the women were a constant, and the men were transient."
"So you intended to raise your child with the help of your mother and
your aunts?" asked Chris.
"Yes. And for a while everything was more or less normal. I managed to
go back to school part time. Mother worked part time, but then she fell ill,
and didn't live."
"Yes. I wasn't able to keep the house. For a while I lived with my
aunt, but that didn't work out for long. I was offered a college
scholarship, but would have been disqualified had I not attended school full
time. Eventually I had to give my child up for adoption."
The scene shifted to Sheila Swain performing her various duties,
counseling students, meeting with parents. Chris's voice-over said, "Dr.
Swain's academic accomplishments are considerable. After graduating from
Howard University Summa Cum Laude, she received her Ph.D. from Harvard, and
has built a life helping students - particularly the underprivileged - to
reach their own goals."
Joining Sheila Swain on a walk across campus, Chris had the camera follow
them as she said, "Dr. Swain, do you have a final word for our viewers?"
Stopping, the Dean turned, her expression growing even more thoughtful
than usual. "I never have found my daughter, though I did try for several
years." Her majestic head bowed slightly, then lifted. "I would say to
young women today, consider carefully putting yourself in a position to
conceive a child. The soul that touches yours will leave you forever
changed. The child you abandon will, in some ways, never abandon you."
Del stopped the tape, rattled. This woman, with her dignity and power,
could be his own mother. Yet Ruby Johnson had held onto him, sacrificing
every opportunity for advancement to make sure he got ahead instead. Had she
received the education she should have, she might have looked and sounded
like this Dr. Swain, an expert in her field, a woman with money and the
respect of her peers.
Ruby'd been a beautiful woman, he'd been told, though for him she was
just Mom. A wide girth, a big heart, and the biggest kitchen in the
neighborhood, Ruby's table was always set. Children of every age gravitated
there, where they'd received food for both body and mind.
Del remembered one boy half his age, who - on the verge of sinking his
teeth into a piece of hot cornbread - had been asked by Ruby, "How do you
spell watershed?" Because he'd tried, he'd gotten a double portion of pea
soup that day. When he joined a gang a few years later, Ruby'd asked him ,
"How do you spell stupid?" Had anyone else stood up to him, they'd have been
killed. In front of Ruby, he averted his eyes, looked down and walked out,
issuing orders to his henchmen to leave Ruby's house alone.
With a new appreciation for what his mother had done, Del once again
pressed Play. Perhaps, after all, Ruby did have part of what Dr. Swain had:
the respect of her peers. And if he could ask his mother, he know she'd
count the riches of spirit to be far more estimable than those of this world.
By two a.m. starlight danced on the shallow waters of Touchstone Beach
minutes from where Del was, but he took no notice. Still sitting in the
darkened video room, his mind was filled with images from the video tape.
Chris Christian's television report on adoption had pulled at his heart
strings and stepped on a nerve. Compelling in its depth and honesty, the
report revealed a great deal about the emotional landscape of the country,
and the increasingly complex web of society. She'd been doing good work,
this reporter, before she'd disappeared. More than ever, he was determined
to find her, or at the very least, discover her fate.
Thin though it was, he'd come up with one possible connection, and that
was the name "Clarke" written more than once in her diary. He'd found it
jotted in a page from several months earlier, unfortunately not in connection
with anything else. No appointment was written, and the name didn't show up
in other notes she'd kept on pending articles. More recently, he'd seen it
again, this time circled several times, as though she'd been on the phone
doodling, or had realized something and decided to pursue it.
With its less-usual spelling, the name "Clarke" had been easy to find in
the Central Coast. Clarke Shipping was located in Morro Bay. Of course it
didn't mean this was the Clarke, but it seemed a place to start. His idea
was to appear in the offices of Clarke Shipping during the lunch hour.
Presumably few people would be available, and he'd be less conspicuous. With
any luck, he'd find a receptionist or secretary who might say something to
him he or she might not say when the bosses were looking on.
What trail had Chris Christian been following, and where had it led her?
If anyone could trace it, it was Del. The hour grew late, and Deputy Delmar
Johnson had a big day ahead.