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First pages

Chapter 1

Harold went jogging every morning at 6 a.m., but on Thursday, someone committed a murder on Harold’s route six minutes earlier.

Harold knew nothing about the murder, and neither did anyone else, except the murderer and God. But the deeply disturbed murderer left the body in the open – near Harold’s usual path – as a message to all redheads. Harold was brunet, but the murderer hoped Harold would be blamed for the slaying.

In fact, the murderer watched through binoculars as Harold unknowingly approached the crime scene – a gray, one-bedroom trailer near Harold’s university.

Harold ran headlong toward disaster, loving the crisp, honeysuckle smell of the air. He sucked big lungs full of it, and enjoyed blowing thick fog. So, he didn’t notice the faint, approaching smells of blood and fear-soaked underwear.

Harold had big plans for the day – the first day of spring of his freshman year of college. Sadly, his plans would go astray, but happily, the murder’s one Immortal Witness would give Harold bigger and better plans. Eventually.

Meanwhile, Harold wrongly assumed that in three hours he would study writing under his hero, best-selling adventure novelist Wendell Kitchener, whom critics called “the new Hemingway.” Since boyhood, Harold wrote Kitchener hundreds of fan letters, including Harold’s own short stories. Harold doubted Kitchener read them, but when Harold turned 17, he got a letter saying, “Great stories! Keep writing. Best wishes, Kitch.” Attached was an application for Deerfield University, the Deep South school of 3,000 students where Kitchener taught writing.

Despite the school’s size, Deerfield U. was famous for training great writers. Mark Twain was the school’s first writing teacher, said a campus brochure. In 1895, when bad investments left Twain bankrupt, Deerfield U. hired him to give some writing lectures. Those lectures’ popularity inspired Twain to go on a worldwide speaking tour, which won him back his fortune. In gratitude, Twain wrote a secret writing manual for Deerfield U.’s English professors, whom he handpicked until his death.

Harold looked online for information on Twain’s manual, but it was hidden by trade-secret law, like the formula for Coca-Cola. Thus, Harold found dead links, deleted postings, and the recurring message, “If you want Twain’s secrets, then prove yourself worthy: Start by applying to Deerfield University.”

Elsewhere, Harold learned Deerfield U. picked just 70 writing students annually out of 100,000 applicants. But all writing students earned full scholarships and mentoring by published authors. That mentoring helped dozens of new Deerfield U. graduates earn spots on The New York Times Best Seller list each decade.

So, Harold mailed his application to Deerfield U. immediately.

Two weeks later, the school sent him an invitation to interview with his hero, Kitchener. So, Harold’s father, Luther Mayfield, rented Harold a blue Ford Festiva hatchback, the size of a washing machine, and Harold drove it to the university.

The drive was shorter than expected, because a new interstate highway had just opened into Taylor County, the university’s home. Taylor County was pine trees, cow pastures and cornfields as Harold arrived, but he noticed the new highway was drawing industrial developers. Dozens of lots had signs announcing commercial construction.

Skimming The Taylor County Tattler, Harold discovered county leaders were negotiating to bring an automobile plant and an e-commerce distributor to the area. Deerfield U. promised to train workers for those businesses.

But many county residents were mad thousands of strangers might “invade” their slow-paced, traditional environment. In the early 21st century, Taylor County had only 40,000 residents, and their social strata hadn’t changed since Confederate General Quintilius Varus Taylor founded the county in 1861. So, Harold read one article where an old farmer, photographed in muddy overalls and a John Deere cap, complained, “That school draws enough artsy-fartsy weirdos, mad scientists, Yankees and foreigners already. We don’t need more folks who don’t know the proper way things are done here.”

Thus, Harold doubted Taylor County would welcome him. But he was thrilled by his chance to learn from Kitchener. Furthermore, Harold needed a full scholarship to study anywhere, because his middle-class family couldn’t afford tuition. For those reasons, Harold pushed aside worries about villagers waving pitchforks, and he focused on impressing Kitchener.

Kitchener’s secretary, Pamela Wellington, instructed Harold not to speak to Kitchener until spoken to, and not to ask personal questions.

“He’s horribly moody,” said Pamela, a cute, friendly Jamaican whose long, tangled braids resembled a cobra’s family reunion. “I’ve seen Professor Kitchener overturn tables, break glass, throw books. But an hour later, he’ll apologize, fix everything, and feed homeless people at the shelter. So, for safety, study his mood and do what he does – unless it’s illegal.”

Pamela said Harold’s interview would happen in stages at three locales: Kitchener’s horse farm, Kitchener’s firing range and Kitchener’s karate school.

Harold arrived at the horse farm to discover Kitchener was a stout, taciturn man who resembled U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt. Kitchener didn’t say hello, but he gestured at places he wanted Harold to go and tasks he wanted Harold to do. All morning, Harold and his tight-lipped idol rode glowing white stallions. All afternoon, the men shot Colt AR-15 rifles, and Glock and Beretta pistols.

That evening, after eating nothing all day, Kitchener and Harold put on white karate uniforms. Harold’s uniform had the plain white belt of a novice, while Kitchener’s uniform had eight black belts, which he wore simultaneously. The men punched and kicked heavy, canvas bags.

Kitchener was skilled at roundhouse kicks, front kicks, side kicks, crescent kicks, reverse-crescent kicks, punches and elbow strikes. Harold imitated Kitchener’s moves until midnight.

Then, when Harold was soaked with sweat and breathless, Kitchener handed him a pen and paper, and said, “Compose a haiku about today within 90 seconds. Go!”

Harold did as commanded, with seconds to spare.

Kitchener studied the poem, nodded and said, “Congratulations. You’re in.”

So, Kitchener took Harold to an all-night diner at a truck stop, bought him the all-you-can-eat platter, and vanished.

Before Harold finished high school, Kitchener helped him get short stories and articles published in a dozen magazines. Or rather, Kitchener gave Harold instructions through his secretary, Pamela, on how to edit each piece and submit it to publishers, whom Kitchener presumably lobbied on Harold’s behalf. One of Harold’s stories won a national award for teen writers. Harold’s parents and teachers were proud. Harold hoped he soon would be a best-selling novelist, like his new mentor.

What a bright future Harold imagined! Fame! Fortune! Paparazzi! A beautiful woman on his arm – maybe even Stephanie Rhodes!

Strawberry-blond Stephanie sat next to Harold in every class during high school. She was breathtakingly beautiful, genius smart, and the only girl he knew who read Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four. Harold remembered the first time he officially met Stephanie, in ninth grade. She asked to borrow his copy of Ghost World, which she read all day while hiding it in the girl-hipster magazine Jane, which she hid in textbooks. Despite such distractions, she made A’s in every class, as Harold did. He fell in love with her instantly, but she was always distant, and barely spoke. So, Harold let their high-school graduation slide by without even asking her to sign his yearbook.

Harold never dated in high school, because he was nerdy, but he decided college would be different. Therefore, he spent the summer before college lifting weights and running until he had muscles. He also followed fashion tips he read in Men’s Fitness.

Two weeks before college, Harold stopped by a grocery store, and he saw her: the girl of his dreams, Stephanie. He never had the nerve to approach her romantically when he looked like a 90-pound weakling, but now Harold was pumped with muscle, and dressed sharp, too. So, he walked straight to Stephanie, and said, “Hi! I don’t know if you remember me, but –”

“Harry Mayfield!” she said, throwing her arms around him. “I miss you so much!”

“Really?” Harold said.

“Of course! I sat next to you four years. I was worried I’d never see you again!”

Stephanie blushed and giggled as she took Harold’s hands in hers. She whispered, “Do you see a change in me?”

Harold examined her from head to toe. She had the same long, reddish-blond curls. Same flawless, porcelain skin. Same gleaming, blue eyes. Same button nose. Same full lips. Same buxom figure. (He tried not to focus on that, for fear of seeming lewd. So, he stared at her face instead.) Soon, Harold noticed a change in her smile.

“Your braces are gone,” he said.

“Yes!” she said, enthusiastically. “At last!”


Stephanie looked at her feet, then up into Harold’s eyes. She said, with embarrassment, “My braces were a barrier between us, and my old, crooked teeth were a bigger barrier before that. They both made me feel ugly. So, I never told you, but I had the biggest crush on you since the day we met.”

Harold stuttered, “You – had a crush on me! I had a crush on you! Do you still feel that way?”

“Do you?” asked Stephanie, looking and sounding hopeful.

“Yes! I was about to ask you out.”

“Then, yes! I’m in love with you! When do you want to go out?”


They spent the day at the county fair.

As the sun set, they rode a carousel. They rode a single, candy-apple-colored horse together, with Stephanie in front and Harold in back. As their steed bobbed up and down, Stephanie turned and looked at him. They leaned into a kiss, their first.

Her lips were warm, wet and welcoming.

He squeezed her tightly as the kiss lingered through a long, sensuous ride. Up and down, round and round. Up and down, round and round.

The next day, they met at the beach. Again, they kissed, in the rolling tide. They held each other close as warm waves surged in and out, in and out, in and out.

The day after that, Harold and Stephanie planned miniature golf. Stephanie asked him to pick her up at her house at lunchtime.

Harold was surprised to discover Stephanie’s house was a white, three-storied, antebellum mansion. It was built in the Greek revival/federal style, fronted by fluted Doric columns on a wide, brick porch beneath a second-story balcony – not just any balcony, but an epic balcony where Southern statesmen once gave orations to townspeople below. It was the type of balcony where the dictator Eva Peron would have loved singing Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina to cheering peasants.

As Harold approached the mansion from its five-acre lawn, Stephanie waved to him from that balcony, and she shouted that she was running to open the door.

It was a giant brass door with a giant brass knocker hanging from the jaws of a giant, brass lion’s face. But Harold didn’t have to knock, because the door was ajar, and Stephanie snatched him in by his arm. “I have a surprise!” she said. “Come quick!”

She yanked him into the house, locked the door, and yanked him through the grand foyer, past the grand piano, and up the winding, grand staircase that could have been in Gone With the Wind. She yanked him up past the first grand chandelier, sparkling with 3,000 crystals, and yanked him across the grand mezzanine.

“What’s going on?” Harold asked, running behind her. “Why aren’t you ready to leave, darling?”

Her hair, makeup and lacquered nails were immaculate, and she smelled like perfume (Chanel No. 5?), but she was wearing a fuzzy, pink bathrobe, and was barefoot. “Just hurry!” Stephanie giggled, still running.

She rushed him past a grand suit of Arthurian steel armor, past grand oil paintings of grand Confederate patriarchs, and past a grand, minivan-size aquarium of angelfish, clownfish and koi.

“Am I meeting your folks?” Harold asked.

“Not yet,” Stephanie said, smiling.

She yanked him past the grandfather clock, trimmed in gold, to a second grand staircase, and up past a second grand chandelier.

Then, finally, she yanked him past little posters of puppies, kittens and unicorns, over a little pile of Rollerblades, and through her little bedroom door. She slammed it behind them, opened her bathrobe and let it fall to the floor.

She was naked.

“Make love to me, Harry,” Stephanie said, pressing her soft, warm body against him. “My folks left town on a sudden business trip this morning, and they won’t be back for days. We can do anything we want. Anything.”

Harold gaped with surprise as she sat on her canopy bed and let him behold her nudity in all its centerfold-worthy glory. Simultaneously, she reached for her nightstand and turned on a small, pink, CD player, which was cued up to the love song 4 Page Letter by Aaliyah.

Stephanie smiled meekly and said, “When I first heard this song during freshman year, I thought of you. I wrote you love letters every day since, but I never had the nerve to give them to you. So, I give you myself instead. Do you … like what you see?”

“I – do,” Harold stuttered. “But, uh, I …”

“You haven’t done it before?” she asked, smiling sweetly.

Harold nodded, swallowing hard.

She took his hands and gently pulled him closer. “I’m practically a virgin myself, but I can guide you in,” she said. She started unbuttoning his shirt.

“Wait,” Harold said, stopping her. “We’ve only dated three days. We’re not ready.”

“That’s my line,” Stephanie mused. “But we’ve known each other four years. We know each others’ characters, priorities and tastes. We love each other. Right, Harry?”


“Then, we’re ready.” She started unbuttoning his shirt again, sliding her tongue between the buttons.

Electricity shot through Harold’s body as she licked his bare stomach, but Harold carefully pulled away.

Stephanie’s face registered confusion and hurt. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “You don’t love me after all?”

“I love you, and I respect you,” Harold said. “That’s why we need to wait.”

Harold lovingly cupped Stephanie’s face in his hands, and he bent to look her in the eyes. “Darling,” he said, “I believe in Jesus and the Bible. So, I believe sex is for marriage, and our bodies are God’s temple, as He tells us in 1 Corinthians 6. Thus, I love you enough to control my passions until we’re permanently committed to each other. Do you love me that much?”

Stephanie was shocked by Harold’s confession, but she looked him in the eyes and said, “I love you enough to do anything you want. I just assumed – assumed all guys need a girl to – put out.”

Stephanie blushed and started to cry. She threw her arms around Harold and said, “I feel so foolish, Harry.”

“Please don’t,” Harold said, kissing her softly. “I don’t judge you. And I’m honored by your offer. But can I please take a rain check?”

Stephanie grinned through her tears. “Definitely!” she said.

“I love you,” Harold repeated, as he covered his eyes for Stephanie to get dressed.

“I love you, too,” Stephanie said.

Her CD was playing Jessica Simpson’s I Wanna Love You Forever, a hit from their junior year.

Harold turned his back to Stephanie, and looked at her antique furniture and modern brick-a-brac. Her small, mirrored, makeup table had less than a dozen hair-and-beauty items, including just two bottles of perfume, namely J’Adore and Clinique Happy (no Chanel).

“Which perfume are you wearing?” Harold asked.

“None today,” Stephanie said.

“Really?” Harold said. “I always noticed you have a naturally fresh scent. I even smelled it on you while we were swimming at the beach.”

“Thank you!”

Harold continue glancing around Stephanie’s room. She had a 13-inch TV and PlayStation 2 on her chest of drawers, but only one game was visible, Dance Dance Revolution. It sat next to DVDs of Titanic, Erin Brockovich and X-Men.

Stephanie’s bookcase had the most items in the room: a dog-eared World Book; four Harry Potter books, including the latest, Goblet of Fire; several volumes of collected cartoons, including Calvin & Hobbes, Liberty Meadows and Maus; and a mixed jumble of classic literature, including Mark Twain, Jane Austen, Nelson Mandela and – surprisingly – Malcolm X.

“Who’s Barack Obama?” Harold asked, perusing a book called Dreams from My Father.

“Obama’s a state senator in Illinois, inspiring,” Stephanie said. “You should read him.”

“I will.” Scanning the pages, Harold said, “I didn’t realize your family lived in an antebellum mansion. Does that mean your Rhodes family is related to that Confederate senator, Trasimene Rhodes, the guy this county is named after?”

“Oh, yeah, he was Daddy’s great-great-granduncle or something,” Stephanie said. “This was once the senator’s cousin’s house. But, supposedly, Senator Rhodes lived in Daddy’s room after Union General Sherman burned the senator’s own house.”

“Wow! Your house is part of history.”

“Only embarrassing history. I’m not into the Confederacy.”

“Neither am I, obviously, but it’s history nonetheless.”

“Yeah, like Hitler’s Third Reich. We have a duty to remember that so humanity doesn’t repeat mistakes, but we shouldn’t glorify traitors against democracy, or their racist regimes.”

“Or genocide. I agree wholeheartedly.” Harold thought a moment and said, “On an unrelated note, I’ll need to work at least 10 or 15 years to afford to keep you in a place this huge. Maybe 20 years.”

Stephanie laughed and said, “Don’t sweat it. My family can’t afford this place either. Daddy thinks we live in the 1850s; so, he bought this white elephant of a house due to ‘family pride.’ But the textile business where he was a vice president moved to Mexico six years ago, and the lumber company where he’s now an exec is increasingly making products in Asia and cutting salaries here, including his. So, now he can barely pay taxes on this house, much less pay to heat and cool two dozen rooms we don’t need.”

“That’s too bad,” Harold said. “I’m sorry for you.”

“Don’t be.”

Stephanie’s CD started playing Alicia Keyes’ new hit single Fallin’, a stirring love ballad sung over Keyes’ haunting piano melody. Harold had heard predictions Fallin’ would soon be the most popular song in America.

Stephanie said, “I want to learn to play that on piano. I’m going to serenade you with it, Harry. But unlike Alicia, I could only fall in love with you, never out of it.”

“Thank you,” Harold said. “I’ll serenade you with some Luther Vandross.”

Ooh, I would love that!” Stephanie said. “But getting back to Daddy: Don’t feel sorry for him. He’ll survive, and so will the rest of our family. I love Daddy to death, but he voted to move those jobs out of America, because he wrongly assumed he would be overseer at a foreign plant. But he got left behind – twice. Mom says it serves him right for being greedy and exploiting foreign workers at the expense of Americans. I agree.”

“Makes sense,” Harold said, nodding.

“So, eventually, we’ll live within our means, like normal people, instead of pretending we’re Colonel Sanders,” Stephanie said. “And Daddy will live in the 21st century with everyone else. It’s not like the family mansion will vanish from history without us. The county offered to pay Daddy to turn this place into a museum.”

“Will he take the offer?”

“I don’t know. He doesn’t trust the government. Daddy says the government bought Scarlett O’Hara’s old Tara plantation near Atlanta and promised to turn it into a museum, but supposedly they tore it down to build Morehouse College.”

Ha! Scarlett O’Hara and her plantation never existed. They’re from a fairy-tale book and movie.”

“You and I know that, because we read history. Daddy just reads online bulletin boards and Cliff Notes to Nietzsche.”

“Did you know Nietzsche eventually went insane, even after claiming, ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger’?”

“I worry Daddy’s going insane too. He lives in a dream world of the past because he’s scared of the future.”

“Well, losing your house is naturally scary.”

“We can afford another house; he said so himself. He’s only scared of losing what the house represents, which is the main thing I want to leave behind. Morally, this place isn’t even ours. The land was stolen from Indians, and the labor to build it was stolen from slaves.”

“You can say that about most places.”

“True, but I would rather live somewhere folks don’t treat such facts like badges of honor. And, personally, I would prefer more Spartan living overall. I give most of my allowance to charity, because I don’t need it. I want to make a living from honest work, and I want to help less fortunate people reach their potential. But I can’t do that here without feeling hypocritical. Besides, this place is too moldy and drafty, and I feel so – alone – in the vast, emptiness of it.”

Stephanie suddenly threw her arms around Harold from behind and squeezed him tightly.

“By the way, Harry, I’m finished dressing,” she said. “You can look now.”

Stephanie was wearing a white, off-the-shoulder top with extra-long sleeves, blue jeans cuffed high on her plump calves, and red high heels.

“You look gorgeous,” Harold said.

“Really?” Stephanie asked, insecurely.

“You look better than I’ve ever seen you – not counting 10 minutes ago.”

Stephanie laughed, and hugged him again.

Harold and Stephanie ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant. While there, Stephanie asked Harold about his faith.

She said, “I don’t know as much about God as I should. My grandparents on Mom’s side taught me Bible stories and prayers as a kid, and I often saw you reading the Bible in class. I figured it had something to do with why you’re a gentleman.”

Stephanie smiled.

“Thank you,” Harold said.

“Could you teach me about Jesus?” Stephanie asked.

“Of course! Jesus loves you more than I do.”

So, they added devotionals to their daily time together at parks, pools, miniature golf courses, libraries, bookstores and elsewhere. They spent every day together all two weeks before college. Every moment was endless joy, except one.

Their last Saturday night together before classes, one of Stephanie’s favorite singers, Aaliyah, died in a plane crash in the Bahamas. As Stephanie wept, Harold gently held her an hour on her front porch. She asked Harold to pray with her. He did.

Stephanie’s father repeatedly stared at Harold and Stephanie through a front window of the mansion, but Stephanie’s mother kept pulling the old man away.

Finally, her father opened the giant, brass door and asked Stephanie to come inside for the night. Stephanie’s mother, Zelda, thanked Harold for comforting their daughter. Meanwhile, Stephanie’s father, who never introduced himself, glared at Harold wordlessly.

Stephanie told Harold she would be all right, and she kissed him on the lips before running indoors.

After Harold and Zelda said good-byes, Harold walked to his car. He now owned a used, red Geo Metro, the size of a washing-machine-and-dryer set. It was parked by Stephanie’s newer, gold Toyota Corolla, her mother’s white Jaguar, and her father’s black Bentley.

As soon as the mansion’s giant, brass door closed behind Harold, he heard Stephanie’s father yell, “Stephanie Melissa Rhodes! Why would you let that boy squeeze all over you?”

“Daddy! Harry’s not like that!” Stephanie said, defensively. “And we love each other!”

Harold felt lonely driving home to his family’s three-bedroom, ranch-style house.

The next day, Sunday, Harold drove two hours to the blue-marble campus of Deerfield University, in rural Taylor County, and Stephanie drove more than three hours to her father’s alma mater, the red-granite Royal Arts & Technical College, in larger, suburban Bernards County. The two schools were 90 minutes from each other. Despite the distance, the young lovers promised to meet halfway between their schools every weekend for dates and church, and they promised to chat online and on the phone daily.

Monday was Harold’s first and most memorable day studying under Professor Kitchener.

Kitchener walked into class, took off his tweed jacket, draped it on the chair behind his desk, laid open a notebook on the desk, cleared his throat, and announced, “Writers should never say one word more or less than needed.” Then, Kitchener picked up his notebook, put on his jacket, and began exiting the classroom.

Harold and other students started laughing.

But a middle-age student, Trudy Patel, shouted after Kitchener, “Wait! Is that all you have to say for the whole class?”

“Yes,” Kitchener said. “Unless you need details or examples.”

“I do!” Trudy said. “I was expecting a 90-minute class.”

“I don’t teach minutes; I teach insights,” Kitchener snarled. He kept walking for the door.

“Don’t we at least get a syllabus?” Trudy asked. “I thought you’d hand out copies of Mark Twain’s secret training manual for writers.”

Kitchener rolled his eyes. “The manual wouldn’t stay secret if we did that,” he said. “So, there are no copies, just one handwritten original in a fireproof, waterproof vault. Twain said no student can see the manual before proving his or her exceptional merit.”


“Start by asking insightful questions rather than peevish or lazy ones.”

Harold cautiously raised his hand and asked, “Sir, could you please give us insights into how best to use your advice in different contexts? You said not to write more or less words than needed, but a news writer discussing a murder needs to write more about it upfront – yet less in total – than a mystery writer who needs to keep you in suspense upfront, but who needs to develop characters, plot, setting and themes to greater depth.”

Kitchener smiled.

He walked back to his desk, took off his jacket, draped it on the chair, sat on the desk, and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, your classmate Harold Mayfield is right. I told you, ‘Writers should never say one word more or less than needed.’ Needs depend on context. So, this semester, you’ll study how to write best in numerous contexts. And, to answer Harold’s question, I’ll start by telling you how best to describe a murder …”

Seven months later, as Harold unknowingly passed a murder scene, his cell phone beeped to tell him he had a text message. He read, “Counting the hours until I see you tomorrow night. Your eternal love, Stephanie.” She had sent Harold a photo of herself dressed for class in a white blouse, pink vest and matching miniskirt.

Harold grinned and typed a reply, “You’re dressed for class this early? I still look like garbage, but forgive me. I love you anyhow. See you Friday.” He snapped a photo of himself in a green, hooded jumpsuit, sweating profusely, and attached the picture to his message.

Harold didn’t know the murder scene was in the background of his picture.

Even the murderer didn’t expect Harold to shoot a picture there. Watching him through binoculars, the murderer was surprised and pleased, and barely stifled a laugh.

The murder scene was the small, gray, ramshackle trailer with peeling paint and the decaying, picket fence. That home in the background of Harold’s picture looked quiet and unalarming at the time. But just beyond the border of Harold’s snapshot was a strangled, dead young woman in the backyard. Specifically, she was a buxom, redheaded woman, vaguely resembling Stephanie, and nude except for one knee-length, argyle sock, soiled panties around her knees, and a leash around her neck.

Although Harold and Stephanie didn’t see the victim, a neighbor did minutes later. That neighbor, Muffy Marcussen, was from the Kappa sorority house next door. She went to the victim’s rented trailer to return a hair dryer and borrow some Jack Daniel’s whiskey.

By then, both the killer and Harold were gone.

But Muffy had seen Harold.

When a sheriff’s deputy arrived, Muffy was tearfully clutching her turquoise-dyed poodle, and surrounded by horrified sorority sisters. “Amy was such a nice girl, for her to not be in a sorority or even college,” said Muffy, an anorexic blonde who was hungover from a frat party. “Amy just moved in next door a few weeks ago.”

“Did you see any suspects?” the deputy asked.

Muffy wiped her mascara-rimmed eyes and said, “I don’t know. But when I came outdoors, there was this young, muscular, black guy running past in a green hoodie.”

Muffy was referring to Harold, whom the deputy immediately described as “a black, male perp fleeing the scene” in a radio alert to all available law officers.

After Harold jogged, he showered in his college dorm. He dressed neatly in a white shirt, red tie and blue slacks, his self-described “Americana outfit.” He gathered his books and started walking toward Professor Kitchener’s class. But before Harold could get out of his dorm’s lobby, six armed deputies in cowboy hats stopped him.

A tall, burly, blond deputy, holding a machine gun, asked Harold, “Were you just out jogging in a green, hooded jumpsuit?” The deputy removed his broad-brimmed hat to reveal a thick, square face with closely cropped hair and with a big, bean-shaped mole under his right eye.

For a moment, the words “right to remain silent” flashed through Harold’s brain, but he didn’t see how he would endanger himself by answering such a simple question. So, instead of remaining silent, Harold said, “Yes.”

Immediately, all six deputies tackled Harold and knocked him to the floor. “You’re under arrest!” shouted the tall, blond deputy.

“What! Why?” Harold asked.

“You tell me why – or I’ll beat it out of you!” said the tall, blond deputy.

“Excuse me?” Harold asked, in shock. “Who are you, the KGB?”

Harold was already subdued, but the deputy hit him in the head with the butt of his machine gun. Blood trickled into Harold’s eye.

Harold would not make it to class that morning or to Stephanie that Friday. Both their lives would change dramatically.

Chapter 2

When the jury read Harold’s guilty verdict, Stephanie leaped over the guardrail of the spectators’ gallery, dashed to the defense table, and slung her arms around Harold.

“I know you didn’t do this!” she cried. “I refuse to believe it, Harry!”

“I know, baby,” Harold said, trying to comfort her, even as he felt ready to vomit. He told her, “You were an excellent character witness during the trial, but – the jury chose to believe the cops instead.”

The tall, blond deputy with the bean-shaped mole under his right eye was grinning and shaking hands with the prosecutor.

A bailiff pulled Stephanie back into the spectators’ gallery, but she still clung to Harold’s cuffed hand. She leaned toward him over the guardrail.

Photographers swarmed around them, snapping pictures, broadcasting video, shouting questions.

Judge Gustav Soren Amleth banged his gavel for order, but to no avail. The media circus was out of hand, and the judge himself clearly reveled. He paused his gavel in midair while a photographer took a snapshot. Judge Amleth looked comical in his trademark bow tie, bowl-cut curls and silver, handlebar mustache, yet he let photographers clamor onto his bench to take pictures of him from dramatic angles.

One photographer, or maybe the judge himself, accidentally knocked over the courtroom’s U.S. flag during this commotion, and no one noticed or picked it up.

Meanwhile, the shapely tabloid reporter Fancy Riviera gave TV viewers a live view of the chaos. Fancy Riviera was the host of Crimewatch America, the fourth-most-watched show on cable news. She was better known for designer wardrobe malfunctions and bombastic commentary than for reporting skills or knowledge, but the 16-to-35 demographic of news addicts fixated on her every word and jiggle.

“Prosecutors never explained a clear motive for why Harold Mayfield committed murder, but speculations emerged in closing arguments,” said Fancy Riviera. “Perhaps Mayfield, who wrote an award-winning murder mystery, needed to experience murder firsthand; or maybe his deep spirituality compelled him to perform some secret religious ritual of death. But regardless of what motivated Harold Mayfield, we can all agree on one thing: He and Stephanie are gorgeous! Let’s run and shoot their last video together!”

Fancy Riviera bounced across the courtroom like a hyperactive cheerleader.

“Will you appeal?” she asked Harold, as her cameraman zoomed in for a closeup.

“We must appeal!” Harold said. “I’m innocent! Heaven knows!”

“And what will the beautiful Stephanie do?” Fancy Riviera asked, turning a microphone toward Harold’s girlfriend. “Your passionate ‘Free Harry’ campaign gained national attention online, but you failed to save the man you love from Red State justice. So, would you now consider a career in modeling?”


About me

J. Maverick Jackson is a veteran news reporter, Christian and patriot who supports the God-given rights of every human.

Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
Never give up. You always have something to fight for -- or someone.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
James Patterson, John Grisham, Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain, Quentin Tarantino, C.S. Lewis, Spike Lee, Rod Serling and the authors of the Bible.
Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
Will Smith and Margot Robbie versus Christian Bale and Triple H, with a supporting cast of Liam Neeson, Randall Park, Michael Pena, Oprah, Priyanka Chopra, Rihanna, Chow Yun-Fat, Russell Brand, Zac Efron, Naveen Andrews, Teneil Whiskeyjack, and cameos by Idris Elba and Rebel Wilson.

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Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
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Prince Charming... Soulmate or Killer?
They’ll do anything to get what she has.
Betrothed Children
Everyone a victim - terrorism thrives on fear