Mark unlocked the door to Anna’s room with her keycard, put her overnight case inside the door and handed her the card.
“Thanks, Mark. I think I’ll take a quick shower, and get into some fresh clothes.”
“While you are showering, I want to research the Summerfields’s. Beth mentioned that she and her brother were born in Clinton, Iowa. If the elder Summerfield’s died at the same time, there could be a story in the local newspaper’s archives. If not, I’ll check the obituaries.”
“I hope that your search is more productive than my conversation with Beth. I don’t think she was lying to us about a client, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she cuts the meeting short and does a Google search of her own. I sensed distrust. When you talked to her, what was her initial reaction? Did she seem pleased or displeased?”
“She was impossible to read. She feigned surprise, but I don’t think she was. I assumed that Philip communicated with her.”
“He claims that he didn’t. Now that he’s gone to the trouble of clearing the air, I don’t think that he would lie to me. Something’s fishy, Mark. From Philip’s remarks, I anticipated a resemblance between Claire and me, but I was still shocked. There’s a world of difference between a slight resemblance and a mirror image. Why didn’t Beth react? Wouldn't shock be the normal reaction?
“I found her lack of reaction puzzling, even problematic, but I didn’t want to cause you undue concern.”
“Like you, I'm puzzled. We definitely don’t look like sisters. Paradoxically, I look more like Claire’s daughter than Beth does. They don’t have the same coloring or the same body type. I’m curious about her brother. Did she, by any chance, show you a photo of him?
“No, but there’s a photo on her desk of a young man who looks very much like her; tall, slender and the same dark hair and eyes. It’s unusual for siblings to be so different, but not beyond the bounds of possibility.”
Anna sighed. “I hope we’re both wrong about Beth. Maybe her distraction was, as she said, due to concerns about an upcoming private showing of her client’s work. So, go do you research. Background information might be helpful. I’ll knock on your door as soon as I’ve showered and dressed.”
The look in Mark’s eyes warned her that he’d unearthed information that was going to be upsetting. “It’s okay, Mark. Believe me, I would rather be prepared than blindsided.”
“What I learned is more distressing than either of us anticipated. Beth’s dad Richard, a cardiologist, was from one of Clinton’s oldest and most respected families. He was reported to be loved by all who knew him. Claire was probably best known as a money raiser for children’s causes. How ironic is that?”
“In 1993, they were murdered during a home invasion. Their four-year-old daughter, Jessica, kidnapped. Ben and Beth were at the movies with their next-door neighbors, the Morrison’s. After the movie, the Morrison family and the Summerfield children, returned to find lights blazing in all of the windows of the Summerfield home.
Thad Morrison, the dad, noticed that the front door was ajar, and suspected trouble. He instructed Beth and Ben to wait in the car while he spoke to their parents. When the police questioned him, he was reported to have said, ‘I walked into a sea of blood.’ Claire had been stabbed repeatedly, and Richard was shot and stabbed. Since you've had nightmares about blood for most of your life, that line was a red flag."
"I agree, but I have no intention of mentioning my nightmares to Beth."
"For the time being, I think that's wise. The details of the murders and the family’s background are perfunctory, but my notes contain the salient points.” He handed Anna his notes and gave her a quick hug. “I wish I could rewrite the story, but it’s better that you know what you’re getting into. I’m going to take a quick shower. We’ll talk after I get dressed.”
Anna was in shock. What she wanted to do was ask him to hold her, put his arms around her and comfort her. She couldn’t ask because he was her co-worker, not her boyfriend. She felt tears welling in her eyes. She mumbled, “I’ll be in my room.”
Back in her room, Anna chose a Kona pod from the coffee selection provided by the motel, added water to the reservoir of the Keurig, and flipped the on-switch. She desperately needed a strong jolt of caffeine. While waiting for the coffee to brew, she scanned all of Mark’s notes. Then, coffee mug in hand, she settled down in the most comfortable chair in the room to read through the material a second time. According to Mark’s notes, the articles were more speculative than factual, but at least she knew the basics about Ben and Beth’s early lives.
Her initial reaction of horror was followed by a deep sense of relief that Beth and Ben were alive. She wondered if they were plagued with terrifying nightmares. Was someone there to comfort them when they woke up screaming? How many years of therapy did it take to banish their fears? Wounds didn’t heal overnight, and even when they healed, the victims were left with scars.
Just as she was fortunate to have Bertie and John, Beth and Ben were fortunate to have their Aunt Rosalie and Uncle Jamie. Love couldn’t take away all of the horror, but loving caregivers helped soften the grief.
Family and friends must have been profoundly disappointed that the murderer or murderers were never apprehended, and that Jessica was never found. In writing about the tragedy—a year later—one reporter mentioned various sightings of Jessica. None of the leads panned out. How frustrating was that? Did Beth, Ben and their adoptive parents eventually reach a point that they were skeptical of anyone who claimed to have information concerning the murders or the kidnapping? Was skepticism the reason for Beth’s ambiguity?
The hostess at Churchill’s greeted Mark and Anna by name. She must have sensed that she had made them uncomfortable, because she hurried to explain, “I’m not psychic. Beth described you. Even if she hadn’t, I would have spotted you. Most of our customers are local, and Laurel Springs is a small town.”
Mark gave her one of his beguiling smiles. “No problem, Susan. When you live in a city, you forget how welcoming people from small towns can be.”
“Churchill’s is big on hospitality. Beth sends her apologies. She is running late, but will be here shortly. She asked that I seat you in one of what we call our privacy rooms, but are actually little nooks and crannies that are only suitable for small parties. We usually reserve the rooms for newlyweds, or couple’s celebrating anniversaries or birthdays, but I had one available for your party.”
As they made their way through a maze of rooms, the hostess commented on the interesting configuration of the building. "The set-up is unusual, but it works remarkably well. Churchill’s was built as an iron foundry in the early 1900’s. In 1955 the building was converted into a medical clinic. Then in 2000, it was converted into Churchill’s Restaurant and Bar. If you are a history buff, you might enjoy reading the short history of the building on the back of the menu.”
As she seated them, she said, “Your server for the evening will be Jodi. What can I have her bring you to drink?”
When the server returned with their drinks, Mark asked, “Are the black metal-and-wood trusses new, Jodi?”
“The roof is new, but the trusses are the originals. Some of the bricks in the atrium’s wall and fireplace had to be replaced, and so did some of the flooring, but the Churchill’s replaced only the building materials that created safety issues."
Anna said, "I'll bet it's fun to work in a restaurant that has so much character."
Jodi nodded. "It is. My mom wants me to get what she calls a real job, but I'm not ready to give up my job here. Would you like to order now, or do you want to wait until the third party arrives?”
Mark responded, “We’ll wait.”
Anna scanned the short history on the back of the menu. “Listen to this, Mark. Although the businesses housed in the structure have been diverse, the owner has always been a direct descendant of Theodore Churchill, the original owner. Quite remarkable, don’t you think.”
Before Mark could respond, Beth slipped into the seat across from Mark and Anna. “Not in Laurel Springs. Most of the family names go back three or four generations. Unlike some small towns, our graduates come back after college. You North Carolinian's sing I’m a tar heel born and a tar heel bred . . . The locals substitute Laurel Springs for a tar heel.”
Anna chuckled. “Home town pride.”
“You bet. Technically, I’m not a native, but I feel like one. Richmond is special. The city offers a variety of jobs, and the commute to Laurel Springs is relatively short. Entertainment, cultural events and exceptional chefs can be found in Laurel Springs and Richmond. For the sports enthusiasts, the area offers Motorsports, skiing and fishing. The area works for me, because it’s a haven for artists and craftsmen.”
After the server took their orders, the conversation lagged. Anna decided that the only way to lessen the tension was to get a few home truths out in the open. “Beth, when our food comes I intend to enjoy it, so I’m going to be blunt, and tell you why I'm here. All I want from you is the truth. I’ve never searched for my biological family. I assumed if I hadn’t heard from them in twenty-one years that they were either dead or didn’t care to meet me. I was okay with that. I have extraordinary parents, a job that I enjoy, a lovely place to live, a car and money in the bank.
"So, why am I here? Curiosity. When Philip mentioned your Mom's portrait, I believed that he was exaggerating. The more I thought about the portrait, the more curious I became. And . . . I’m tired of looking at people’s faces and wondering if they are related. I want to put the past to rest. That’s it. I sense that you’re uncomfortable with the possibility that I’m in any way connected to the Summerfield family. I’m sorry that I’ve put you in an awkward position. When Mark and I leave tomorrow, I don’t intend to bother you again.”