I was pleased to receive another 5 Star Review of Fan Mail, this time from Joan Livingston, who some of you might know as the author of the acclaimed Isabel Long Mystery Series. She was gracious enough to read my novel and review it. She wrote:
Headline: Readers will have a hard time putting this book down!
“Joseph Lewis gets readers’ attention right from the first chapter in his latest crime fiction, Fan Mail, when a car bomb explodes outside a school sports stadium. Then, there is threatening mail sent to members of a band from an anonymous source and a stressed-out father’s heart attack. So what will happen to that group of teenaged boys who have survived dire life experiences, including sex trafficking, to find a safe home with a caring couple? Readers will have a hard time putting this book down.”
“We’ve gotten to know these characters well in Joseph’s other books. The adopted brothers appear inspired to excel at everything from sports to music. But that also makes them a target. Joseph draws on his experience as a longtime educator to accurately portray teenagers trying to find their way in this sometimes confusing and dangerous world. An interesting coming-of-age novel with a dark twist. Looking forward to the next one.”
“So good to get lost in a book!”
– Joan Livingston, Author of the Isabel Long Mystery Series
To say I was pleased is an understatement.
Here is the Second Chapter of Fan Mail for you to enjoy. Chapter One was in my last post. I apologize for any formatting issues.
APPROXIMATELY ONE MONTH LATER
Brian crumpled up the call slip summoning him to the guidance office. He
pushed it to the corner of his desk as far away as possible without tossing it
on the floor. His English teacher, Penny Rios, looked at him questioningly,
but didn’t question him about it.
Brian didn’t want to see his father, Jeremy. The ride to school was not
only unexpected, but uncomfortable. Normally, Jeremy signed his own slips,
not Farner, the assistant principal. That was a twist. Still, he ignored it.
Besides, Rios was one of his favorite teachers, and the discussion they
were having on Lord of the Flies was a good one. Even though they were only
supposed to read up to the fourth chapter, Brian had reread the entire book
in three days. Because only a third of the students had read the book, Rios
decided to have the entire class read Lord of the Flies, or in some cases, reread
“Who would you consider a strong, independent character? Perhaps a
leader among the boys?” Rios asked.
The answers ranged from Jack to Ralph to Piggy. Brian’s friend,
Shannon Pritchert, mentioned Simon, which was an unusual answer.
Puzzled, Rios asked, “Why Simon?”
“I don’t consider him to be a leader, but he was independent. He wasn’t
buying into either side. He spent most of the time by himself,” she said.
“Brian, you’re pretty silent today. What are your thoughts?”
He said, “It depends upon what you think strong means. Honestly, I
don’t think any of them are strong. Being strong means having integrity.
Ralph didn’t defend Piggy even when he was being picked on. If he had
integrity, he would have defended Piggy no matter who was against him.
Jack broke rules he felt weren’t necessary, even though there needed to be
order. A person with integrity doesn’t break rules just because he might not
like them. Piggy whined and complained, but he tried to establish order. I
think because of his size and his whining, no one paid attention to him. A
leader has to have followers.”
He looked over at Shannon, smiled, and said, “I have to think about
Simon. I hadn’t thought of him being independent until Shannon
“What is your definition of integrity?” Rios asked.
Brian didn’t wait to be called upon. He said, “Someone who speaks the
truth and lives it even when others don’t. A person who is genuine.”
“That can make someone pretty unpopular, don’t you think?”
Brian nodded and said, “It’s what makes someone strong. Speaking the
truth and following the rules, no matter who else does or doesn’t. Being
willing to take a stand, even if it’s unpopular. Standing up for your beliefs. If
you don’t do those things, you don’t have integrity and you aren’t strong.”
There was a knock on the door and Tommy Harrison, the head
basketball coach and one of the physical education teachers, stuck his head
in, smiled at Rios and said, “I’m here to get Brian Evans. He’s wanted in the
Brian first stared at the crumpled call slip and sighed. Then, reluctantly,
he stood up.
“Bring all your stuff.” Harrison turned to Rios and said, “I don’t think
he will be back in your class today.”
“Okay, thanks,” Rios smiled and said, “Brian, your assignment is to read
the next two chapters by Friday.”
Brian grinned at her. “I finished the book already.”
She laughed and said, “I thought so. Just skim over the next two chapters
so they’re fresh in your mind for Friday.”
Brian stuffed the paperback, his notebook, and his pen into his
backpack, and left the room with Harrison.
As they walked down the hallway, Harrison asked, “Since when do you
ignore call slips from the assistant principal?”
“I thought it was from my dad.”
“Since when do you ignore call slips from your dad?”
“We were having a discussion on Lord of the Flies. It was a good one.”
Harrison smacked him playfully on the shoulder and said, “The book or
Brian laughed and said, “Both!”
They walked into the guidance area. There were three students sitting
at a table, and one working on a computer in the corner. All four stopped
what they were doing and stared at him.
He also noticed the silence and the lack of a hello from Kristi Johnson,
the guidance secretary and his dad’s friend. Normally, she was smiling and
outgoing. Today, she was quiet. She looked sad as if she had been crying.
“Kristi, are you okay?” Brian whispered as he stood in front of her.
She barely glanced up at him and nodded. She dabbed at her eyes with a
Brian turned and saw his dad’s dark office with the door closed.
“We’re in the conference room,” Harrison said as he put an arm around
his shoulders, guiding him through the guidance area and down the small
Harrison nodded, and then before opening up the conference room
door, he hung onto Brian’s arm and said, “Bri, I want you to know if you or
the guys need anything, and I mean anything, all you have to do is ask.”
Brian wanted to ask him what he meant, but before he could, Harrison
opened up the door and stood to the side so Brian could enter. Inside were
his brothers, minus Two, who was at Butler Middle School. Jeff Limbach
was there, along with his son, Danny. Bob Farner, the assistant principal,
Chuck Gobel, the principal, and Gloria Beatleman, one of the other
counselors, were there.
Detectives Pat O’Connor, Jamie Graff, and Paul Eiselmann stood
against the wall behind Randy, Bobby, and Danny. George sat at one end of
the table, facing Farner and Gobel. On the other side of the table were Billy
and Brett, with an empty chair between them. Brian assumed the empty
chair was for him. Harrison stood with his back against the closed door.
Brian’s father was not in the room.
Brian and his brothers were puzzled. No one knew why they were called
to the office, and he was certain his brothers wondered where their father
was, just as he did.
Farner was a big man with a bald head on top and brown hair on the
sides, and the guys liked him, especially Danny and Randy, who supplied
him with songs after they recorded them.
He cleared his throat. As often as he spoke in front of groups, he was
uneasy and less than confident. He said, “Guys, I have some news to share.
Please, let me finish before you ask questions, okay?”
The guys nodded. Brian glanced at O’Connor and then at Graff to see
if he could read anything from their reactions. He couldn’t, though
O’Connor’s eyes met Brian’s.
“This morning, just after the start of first period, your dad fainted.
When he woke up, our nurse checked your dad’s blood pressure. It was
higher than normal. Your father also complained of chest pressure and
tingling in his left arm.”
“Heart attack,” Brett said quietly, not taking his eyes off of Farner.
Ignoring Brett for the moment, Farner plowed on. “As a precaution, we
called for an ambulance, and they took your dad to the hospital.”
Ignoring the no question request, Brett asked, “Did you call our mom?”
“Yes, we did,” Farner nodded. “She requested the ambulance take him
to Froedtert Hospital, where she works. She’s planning on meeting the
ambulance at the hospital.”
“Have you heard anything about how Dad is doing?” Brett asked.
Farner shook his head and said, “No. Nothing yet.”
Brian glanced around the room. Bobby and Randy wept quietly. Billy
cried openly and unashamedly. Brian reached over and held his forearm.
Danny sat with his hands folded on the table. He couldn’t read George’s or
Brett’s expressions. Probably they were as stunned as he was.
Brett turned to Brian and asked, “When dad took you to school, was he
Brian shook his head and said, “He didn’t seem like it.”
Gobel said, “Mr. Limbach is going to drive you guys to the hospital so
you can be with your mom and dad.”
Brian held up a hand like a traffic cop and said, “Does our brother
“Oh shit,” Farner muttered. “Sorry, excuse the language. No, I didn’t
think of it.”
Brian half-turned to Jeff and said, “Jeff, would you take Randy, Brett,
Bobby, and Danny to the hospital? George, Billy and I will go to Butler and
pick up Michael.”
Jeff nodded and said, “Yes, I can.”
Brian explained to Farner and Gobel, “Brett and Bobby need to be with
mom. Their mom. Randy needs to be with dad.”
“What about Billy?” Randy asked.
“George and I will be with him. We won’t be far behind.”
“Brian, I don’t think you should drive,” Gobel cautioned.
“I’ll be fine,” Brian said with finality. “Mr. Farner, can you call the
middle school and tell them to have Michael ready? But make sure no one
tells him about dad. George and I will.”
“Brian,” Mr. Gobel objected, when O’Connor cut him off.
“I’ll escort them to Butler and then lead them to the hospital.” To Brian,
he said, “Do you know how to get there?”
“I’ve been there once or twice, but I’ll put the address in my nav system
just in case.” With the amount of construction and his lack of familiarity
with that area of Milwaukee, he wasn’t so sure. O’Connor knew it.
Brett, who had driven Brian’s truck to school, searched his backpack for
Brian’s keys and placed them on the table in front of Brian.
To Farner, Brian said, “It’s important they don’t tell Michael. We will.
I don’t want him freaking out when no one is with him.”
There didn’t seem to be any further discussion, so Brian stood up and
said, “Okay, let’s go.”
Graff said to Jeff, “We’ll bookend you. I’ll lead, and Paul will be behind
you.” To Brian, he said, “Bri, I want you driving carefully.”
“Are you sure you’re okay to drive?” Graff asked.
Brian leveled his gaze at O’Connor and then at Graff. He said, “I’m
“Can you please let us know any news?” Farner asked.
“I have your cell. I’ll call or text you and coach,” Brian said. He stopped
at the doorway and asked, “Is Kristi going to be okay?”
Gobel smiled and said, “We’ll take care of her. It was thoughtful of you
to ask about her.”
The boys, the cops, and Jeff filed out of the conference room, leaving
Harrison, the administrators, and the counselor standing there in silence. It
was Farner who broke it.
“Brian, wow! I didn’t expect him to take charge. Brett, maybe, but not
Harrison smiled, shook his head and said, “It was crunch time for them.
Now you know why, if the game is on the line, the guys look to Brian. If
there’s one shot left, Brian will take it. You saw the same thing in football
with the forty-seven-yard field goal to win the sectional final. Brian is scary
calm and most always in control.”
“I always thought Brett was the leader. Maybe Randy,” Farner said.
Harrison shook his head. “In some ways, maybe. Probably a lot of ways.
With something like this, all of them follow Brian.”
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