Searching for biological parents raises many questions. The adopted child might feel anger they were adopted out, or joy that they had the chance to become a part of that parent’s life. These questions are on the table today in today’s mystery, Design Flaws by Joe Golemo.
About the Book
After his father dies, Grayson Dyle, the owner of a fledgling product design firm, observes his mother hiding an envelope in the casket. He retrieves the letter, revealing that he and his brother Dean, a home automation guru, were adopted. Eager to learn more, he submits a DNA sample online and connects with a prominent attorney who claims to be their father and who tells the brothers their birth mother died as she was giving Grayson life.
When the attorney is brutally murdered, Grayson has little time to mourn the loss of two fathers because he quickly becomes a prime suspect and the killer’s next target. The brothers investigate and soon discover their mother died suspiciously as well. Their search for justice leads them to a local Catholic Bishop, whose stonewalling and lies are designed to protect the Church and keep family secrets hidden. As Grayson struggles to save his business from collapse, he must overcome his internal conflicts about being adopted, prevent his brother from going off the rails, and find the design flaws in the murderer’s plans before he or Dean becomes the next victim.
James sat back and looked at us for a moment. “Grayson…Dean…I can tell you about your birth family, but it must stay between the three of us. It’s a bit complicated, but this information, this truth, if it got out, would cause tremendous heartache for people I care about. I…” Just then, the server stopped by with our drinks. His timing was lousy, but James didn’t seem deterred. As the server left, he looked back and forth between us, his face softened, and his eyes twinkled with pride. “Boys, I am your biological father.” He seemed to relish the idea of having two sons. After hearing the horror stories about biological parents or their offspring rejecting each other, I was somewhat relieved to have a biological father with whom a normal adult relationship seemed like a real possibility. Dean smiled before I could get a word in. “I knew it. I knew a seventy-eight percent match wouldn’t lie.” Leave it to my brother to make this a technology issue. “You do mean both of us, right?” I asked. “Yes. Both of you.” James’s smile faded a bit, and a hint of shame emerged. The implications of having not one but two children out of wedlock must have hit home. We all stared at each other, not knowing what to do or say. Should we get up and hug? Fist-bump? High-five? No one seemed to know the proper social protocol when meeting your birth father for the first time. I was getting a queasy feeling but didn’t know why. “So, what happened?” James looked down, squirmed a bit, then fidgeted with the flatware so they were parallel with the table side and even across the bottom. “It’s complicated. I’ve thought about reaching out many times over the years, but I didn’t want to create any issues for you two and your adoptive parents.” “You mean our real parents, right?” Dean was no longer smiling now that his technology triumph was over. “Yes, yes, of course, your real parents—the only parents you’ve ever known.” James squirmed some more. “You can see why I was concerned about reaching out. There’s no easy way of handling something like this.” The server stopped by with another server, who carried plates. “Here we are, sir. I believe you ordered the Steak Diane. Here is the Salmon Oscar and the Beef Pot Au Pho for you. Is there anything else I can get you? No? Great—I will check back with you in a bit. Enjoy!” The break in our conversation gave me a moment to think, and the realization that he deliberately chose not to reach out to Dean or me merely for his convenience was jarring. I needed to try a different approach before anger shut down all rational thought. “We’re not trying to place blame. We’re just looking to understand how things ended up the way they did. What can you tell us about Maggie, for example?” A smile broke across James’s face. “She was wonderful. Such a free spirit. She made fast friends with everyone she met. Something in her easygoing nature made you feel good about yourself just being in her presence.” Maybe he really did love her. “She sounded like a very caring person in the letter,” I said between bites. “Did she mention any names?” That struck me as odd. Why was James concerned about Maggie naming names ? “The only name I recall was a Sister Anna,” said Dean. James seemed relieved. “I’m not surprised. Sister Anna took Maggie under her wing, even though she was only a few years older. Anyone else?” “We don’t want to discuss that right now.” I jumped in before Dean could answer, and now he and James were both looking at me funny. “Okay, I understand. Will you let me read the letter at some point?” “Maybe the next time we get together.” I was developing severe trust issues with our newfound father. “What was her last name?” James squinted as he shifted his gaze between Dean and me. He seemed to be mentally calculating the odds of making a deal—we show him the letter, and he tells us her last name. But then he relented. “Fitzgerald. Her name was Margaret Fitzgerald. Everyone called her Maggie.” “Thanks,” I said. “What did you mean when you said the truth would cause tremendous heartache for people you care about?” James pushed his dinner plate away and leaned forward on his elbows. “This is embarrassing, but my wife, Cathy, doesn’t know I have children from a previous relationship. I planned on telling her right after we were married, but the timing never seemed right. It’s been over thirty-eight years now. You can imagine how much of a shock this will be. To make matters worse, she’s our office manager, so she has full access to my work schedule and emails. I told her we were meeting to discuss a lawsuit. If you speak with her, please stick with the story, at least until I figure out how to tell her the truth. If she finds out on her own, it could ruin our marriage. Let’s get back together in a few weeks after we’ve all had a chance to think about things. Maybe you can bring the letter with you.” Dean was consoling, which wasn’t like him. “That’s fine, James. We’re not going anywhere.” Something was seriously wrong here. Why was this guy so obsessed with reading the letter? I started thinking this was his sole purpose in agreeing to meet with us. I could feel my face turning red, and shot my brother a dirty look. “No, it’s not fine, Dean.” Then I turned to face James head-on. “How can you sit there and lie like that? Maggie said she couldn’t marry Dean’s father because he was already in a committed relationship. You were already seeing Cathy and having a fling with Maggie on the side when she got pregnant, weren’t you? You have no intention of telling Cathy anything. You’re just trying to pacify us until you can see the letter, make sure there’s nothing incriminating in it, and then make this whole thing go away—make us go away so you can go back to leading your perfect little life. What is wrong with you?” I must have been getting louder as the people at nearby tables were glancing our way. I didn’t care. “Hang on, Grayson, that’s not fair…” “No, you hang on, Dad. Do you really think you can tell us what to do here? You cheated on your girlfriend, knocked up some poor girl, twice, and probably forced her to have her babies in secret and then give them up for adoption, all so you wouldn’t have to deal with them. Then you abandoned her, right? Did you ever talk to her again, our mother? A girl who was so madly in love that she slept with you again after you knocked her up the first time. Do you know where she is now? Maybe send her a Mother’s Day card or two, you heartless bastard.” Dean was clenching his teeth so hard it looked like they might crack. “Grayson! Will you knock it off?” “Wait, just a minute… I can explain everything. Grayson. Let me explain…” James’s Irish face was ruddy with anger and fear.
When he’s not working on his next murder mystery, Joe is a Partner with a Management and IT Consulting firm. He is originally from Chicago and holds a Chemical Engineering degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He moved to Rochester, Minnesota, to work for IBM and fell in love with the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Joe has a lovely wife of over 30 years, two adult children, and a crazy dog named Marco.