Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste

Prologue

Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Mystery Box: Conclusion

February 3, 2017

 

If you missed Part One of this post you can find it (here).

 

***************************************

 

 

 The box had occupied space in our garage for as long as I could remember, and even though it was off-limits I’d allowed Ricky Delgado, my best friend, to talk me into opening it.

 

My heart sank when I didn’t see a Japanese flag or a chunk of scorched metallic scrap from a kamikaze. Only boring papers and old photographs, just what Dad had said was inside. Black and white snapshots of a remarkably young Dad in his Navy uniform, hamming it up with buddies on shore leave, downing drinks in exotic looking bars. It’s hard to accept that your parents had lives before you came along, but here was proof.

           

Ricky looked disappointed as he went through a stack of papers. He unfolded a document. “No war souvenirs. What a waste of t—wait a minute.”

           

I was pissed at Ricky for once more leading me astray. “What did you find, a letter proving my dad was a spy?”

           

“No, but this is interesting.”

           

“What?”

           

“A marriage certificate.”

           

“You found my parents’ marriage certificate?”

          

“Uh, not exactly. Say, what year did your folks get married?”

           

I wasn’t sure, and did the math. I knew Mom and Dad had been married just over a year when my brother was born and he was now fourteen, so they were married in 1949.

           

Ricky handed me the document.         

           

It had a spy-like quality to it; important and official. Engraved across the top it read: Certificate of Marriage. I didn’t see what Ricky had found so intriguing. “Check out the date,” he said.

           

I found it—June 12, 1947. Then came the bombshell. I recognized Mom’s maiden name, but the other name wasn’t Dad’s. “I don’t understand,” I said, unaware that I was speaking.

 

“What don’t you understand,” Ricky asked. “Your mother was married to someone else before she married your Dad. Maybe your asshole brother isn’t really your brother. You look like your Dad, except he isn’t short and fat, but David doesn’t look like anyone in your family. Maybe the reason he acts so much older than us is because he is.”

           

I’d spent my entire life in my older brother’s shadow, tangling with him, being annoyed by him, yet it made my head spin to think he might not really be my brother.        

 

The garage door rattled as it was pulled open. David stood in the driveway. He was about to say something snarky, as he usually did when he encountered me and Ricky, but his lips pressed tightly together as he looked at the open plywood box and the pictures and papers in our hands.

“You’re in big trouble,” he said. “It takes a lot to make Dad mad, but he’s gonna blow a gasket when he finds out about this.”

           

I handed him the marriage certificate.

 

He studied it for a minute and then turned to Ricky. “Beat it! I want to talk to my brother.”

           

“Maybe he isn’t your brother.”

           

David took two menacing steps toward Ricky and my best friend turned and fled through the open garage door. When Rick had gone, I looked at my brother and said, “Well?”

           

“Well what?” he answered.

 

“Are you my brother? According to this paper, Mom was married to someone before Dad. Is this guy named on the license your real Dad?”

           

“No.”

           

“But the name on the paper…”

          

“This just means that Mom was married to someone else before she met Dad. The marriage was annulled. Do you know what that means?”

           

I shook my head.

           

“It means it didn’t count. Like it never existed.”

 

“How long have you known about this?”

           

“Long enough. I opened the box and saw this certificate years ago. Mom and Dad’s marriage certificate is in the metal box in the hall closet, along with our birth certificates. This isn’t anything for you to worry about.”

           

“So we really are brothers?”

           

“Of course, you little moron. Believe me, sometimes I wish we weren’t but there isn’t anything I can do about it.” He reached down and picked up the screwdriver. “Let’s put this box back together before Mom or Dad find out about this and both of us get grounded for life.”

 

I gathered up the screws and handed them to David, one at a time. When the last one was securely in place I looked up at him and said, “I’m glad.”

           

“Glad about what?”

           

“I’m glad we’re really brothers.”

           

“You’re such a little goon,” he said, but there wasn’t any sting to it. He helped me move the box back to its spot beside Dad’s workbench before he went inside.

           

I stared at the box and wondered if there were other family secrets I didn’t know about. Twenty years would pass before I’d discover the answer was yes. For the next few years I’d spend each Christmas reflecting on the plywood box beneath our stout tree, remembering when it only held the harmless products of my imagination.

          

 

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Comments

33 Comments
now wait just a doggone minute! There's more to this story!! To be continued Monday??!
By: Kathe W. on February 3, 2017
I cheated and read the 2012 article.
By: PT Dilloway on February 3, 2017
Well told Stephen.You kept me on the edge of my seat. R
By: Rick Watson on February 3, 2017
Still an interesting find. That sort of thing didn't happen as often in the past.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on February 3, 2017
Have you ever considered the likelihood that you may be getting the 'facts or alternative facts' confused somewhere between your imagination and memory ?
By: Daniel LaFrance on February 3, 2017
Daniel, There are times when I admit to a bit of "autobiographical fiction," writing things as they should have been instead of a less interesting reality, but this story is factual. As it turns out, my mother was married to someone before my dad, and it was annulled. Oddly enough, Mom's first husband lived down the street from my grandmother and he was present at most family functions. I have no idea why my mother kept this information from us. I never noticed anything between Mom and this fellow. Steve
By: chubby Chatterbox on February 3, 2017
Family secrets and family dynamics. The truth is often stranger than fiction. Almost always more interesting! I enjoyed this tale.
By: Kelly on February 3, 2017
How fascinating and almost scandalous! Now that you left us with a teaser, I want the next episode!
By: Lexa Cain on February 3, 2017
It made me so happy to read of your brother's reaction to your comment. I was hoping it would go like that :) Excellent storytelling and a great true story.
By: jenny_o on February 3, 2017
Steve, Andy remembers this box and it is just as you said. He wants to know if you remember telling him that there was a machine gun in there? He laughs now knowing one wouldn't fit in the box!
By: Linda Morris on February 3, 2017
There really should be a Part 3, you little goon! Make something up!
By: Mitchell is Moving on February 3, 2017
Great story and I had to go back and read part 1--you're building suspense cause we all want to know what happens next.
By: Sage on February 3, 2017
All families have their secrets and mysteries. You put your story into words so well--as you do with all your stories. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on February 3, 2017
Well told Stephen, you kept us hanging in till the end. Interesting that the first husband stayed in your life and you didn't know his role.
By: Arkansas Patti on February 3, 2017
A great moment of discovery. When my mother passed I found a cache of letters between her and dad when he was in the army. I have yet to read them, thinking I am crossing into a private space that may belong only to them, even now they are gone.
By: Tom Cochrun on February 3, 2017
That generation had some many silly secrets it seems.
By: Tabor on February 3, 2017
We NEED a Part 3--true or not!!
By: fishducky on February 3, 2017
Just like your brother to pry that box open ahead of you, and never tell you what he found!
By: Val on February 3, 2017
That is quite the surprise but now I still feel like I am left hanging and that there is still more to this story. It's funny how we all have secrets or at least our parents had. My cousin thought his dad was always my Uncle but found out later that he wasn't. My aunt had some affair or something when she was 17 and this produced my cousin. She never disclosed to him who his real father was no matter how often he asked her. You wonder....
By: Birgit on February 3, 2017
sometimes the hype of the mystery is fa more than what's real.
By: red Kline on February 3, 2017
Another fine and entertaining story, Stephen. Thank you.
By: Mr. Shife on February 3, 2017
You told this story so well, Stephen. I laughed at Ricky's comment that your Dad looked like you except he wasn't short and fat.
By: Robyn Engel on February 3, 2017
Every family has secrets, but the fewer the better.
By: messymimi on February 4, 2017
Another great story from you, and I'm looking forward to part 3!
By: LL Cool Joe on February 4, 2017
I'm slowly getting rid of letters and stuff from before this life. mostly I can't even remember who these guys were.
By: Ellen Abbott on February 4, 2017
Another fine story, beautifully written, Stephen. But that comment about "20 years would pass..." - was that a tease for more or just an aside?
By: Catalyst on February 4, 2017
Oh, what a story-teller you are. That was well worth waiting for. Phew, so, your brother IS your real brother! :-) Greetings from London. PS: By the way, many thanks for your comment on my post just now. You're right. I had completely overlooked the fact that little David was far more agile than heavy-stepping Goliath.
By: A Cuban In London on February 4, 2017
Sometimes things are best left to the imagination. Great story.
By: Bee BB Bee on February 4, 2017
Steve, just clarifying that I felt your brother's reaction was protective and caring, in spite of his actual words, and THAT was the reaction I was talking about in my comment above. When I came back to read more comments I realized my meaning wasn't at all clear :)
By: jenny_o on February 4, 2017
What a great story! And I agree with you - why is it to hard for us to imagine that our parents had lives before we appeared on the scene? Now please tell us the story about "twenty years would pass"...
By: Pixel Peeper on February 4, 2017
I can easily see how that kind of information omission can happen. I've been there, myself. I never felt much reason to speak about the very short-lived first marriage I had before marrying my kids' dad. It wasn't that I was trying to keep it a secret.. I just never gave it much thought and it never really came up. Until it did. My older son was about 14 and he seemed surprised. We haven't really talked about it again and I'm not even sure if my younger son is aware. I guess it's time to chat, eh?
By: Hilary on February 5, 2017
No wooden box of secrets, but I think all families have some hidden bits, that for whatever reason, are not passed on to the kids. This is sometimes not a big deal, (personal stuff), to scary important, (medical stuff). I have seen both, in my family, and through some discreet questions and some odd comments I picked up on, when people thought I wasn't listening, I have gathered a few of those secrets. Sort of strange, but people are people... Even family... Cat
By: Cat on February 5, 2017
Awwww...I love this story. Nice ending, but I think you have some more surprises to share with us,......
By: Marcia @ Menopausalmom on February 6, 2017

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